North Korea and China: Nuclear Power

The recent confession by North Korea that it has the capability to make nuclear weapons – and may even have made some – has complex repercussions. Neighbours within reach of Pyongyang’s missiles – China, South Korea and Japan – have strong views on how the situation should be handled. The North Korean regime is almost certainly on the road to collapse, its leaders would not otherwise have also confessed that it was responsible for abducting Japanese citizens. Scenarios for the future look deeply unappealing – or worse.

The World Today
Published 1 December 2002 Updated 23 October 2020 4 minute READ

David Wall

Associate Fellow, International Economics Programme, Chatham House

It took the United States government some time after the confession to work out its own position; its A-team of strategic thinkers was tied up on Iraq issues. When it did react, the effect was to push the South Korean president onto the diplomatic sidelines and demote Japan back to poodle ally status.

On November 4, political leaders from China, Japan and South Korea used the summit of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations and the three Northeast Asian countries (ASEAN plus 3) to urge that the nuclear programme be dismantled. This followed the Mexico Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) meeting, at which President George Bush persuaded Premier Zhu Rongji of China and President Kim Dae-jung of South Korea to join him in publicly calling for dismantling.

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