On 3 Dec., Leonid Petrov gave interview to CNBC’s “Straight Talk with Bernie Lo” program, answering question on the tensions around the Korean peninsula.
BL: Dr. Leonid Petrov, please give us a review of what’s been going on since North Korea fired upon South Korea last week.
LP: Tensions are heightening in the area around Yeonpyeong Island, with the confirmation that North Korean forces deployed 122 mm multi-launch rocket systems (Russian-made GRAD) in an inland area near Kaemori to a coastal location facing the island, and opened additional 76.2 mm (Russian-made ЗИС-3) naval artillery firing ports in addition to the previous 14 locations.
The North Korean military was also reported to have stepped up its anti-air posture, targeting aerial activity by South Korean fighter planes flying in the area near the Northern Limit Line (NLL), with the forward deployment of SA-2 earth-to-air missiles in the area north of Baengnyeong and Yeonpyeong Islands. It was also confirmed that the North Korean military positioned anti-ship missiles on a launch pad in the area around Tungsangot in Hwanghae Province, near the NLL.
South Korea’s military plans to conduct large-scale artillery firing drills in seas around the Korean Peninsula, including waters close to the Yellow/West Sea border, between 6-12 Dec., will beef up its defence readiness posture against North Korea. An advisory was issued to local vessels planning to navigate around 29 locations in waters around the peninsula.
The 29 locations include 16 in the Yellow/West Sea but do not include waters close to Yeonpyeong Island where the deadly shelling took the lives of four South Koreans. Instead, Daecheong Island, close to Baengnyeong Island where the South Korean corvette Cheonan was sank last March, was included. The ROK navy plans to conduct firing exercises in waters southwest of Daecheong Island. Next week’s naval firing drills are expected to further increase tensions on the Korean Peninsula.
BL: How have international ties been affected in terms of China, the US and Japan’s reaction to the shelling? Should the world be looking at China to play peacekeeper ?
LP: China does act consistently as a peacemaker, sending its envoys simultaneously to Seoul and Pyongyang. Beijing has proposed that chief negotiators in the six-nation talks on North Korea’s nuclear disarmament hold an emergency meeting early this month to discuss ways of easing tensions. But South Korea and Japan have refused to talk. The US remains non-committal. Only Russia has supported China’s proposal to hold the emergency talks.
Top legislators from China and North Korea held talks in Beijing, where Wu Bangguo, Chairman of the Standing Committee of Chinese National People’s Congress, and Choe Thae-bok, Secretary of the Central Committee of the North Korean Workers’ Party, met on Wednesday. China said it does not seek to protect any side in the crisis and urged against acts that may inflame regional tensions. But China’s efforts to defuse tensions on the Korean Peninsula have been unfairly rebuked by both sides of the conflict. The United States also views China’s lukewarm response to North Korea’s actions with puzzlement and disappointment.
BL: What do you think will go on from here on? How will tensions be across the peninsula?
LP: Much will depend of the position of US government, the strategic allay of South Korea. The Obama administration must put more pressure on Lee Myungbak’s government to stop its provocative actions in the disputed waters and along the DMZ and be more open to diplomatic solutions to the problem. Seoul should talk to Pyongyang, while Washington must discuss paths for conflict resolution with Beijing.
Following bilateral talks, a round of four-party talks (PRC-US-ROK-DPRK) should be conducted to discuss the ending of the Korean War by the way of signing a new peace treaty, diplomatic cross recognition, and mutual security assurance. Ultimately, after the peace regime is established, the six-party talks (with participation of Russia and Japan) may be resumed and lead to a final resolution of nuclear problem.
BL: And with US, South Korea and Japan meeting next week to discuss more possible action, what might come out of such talks?
LP: US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton will meet on Monday, 6 Dec., in Washington with her counterparts from South Korea (Minister Kim Sung-hwan) and Japan (Minister Seiji Maehara) to discuss regional tension. It is disappointing that the meeting excludes China and Russia. The trilateral format of this meeting on regional security clearly shows that the US and its allies still think and operate in the old Cold War paradigm of bloc mentality, where fear and distrust rule decision making.
The current crisis has created a moment of truth for all members of the former six-party talks, revealing their genuine intentions. The members of theUS-ROK-Japan alliance are much more comfortable talking amongst themselves than facing the challenge posed by DPRK-PRC-Russia’s invitation to end the Korean War and sign the peace treaty. Close cooperation between the United States and China is paramount for the quickest resolution of the Korean crisis and restoration of stability in the region.
Korea (North, South, or unified) should be given a status of neutral, non-aligned, and non-nuclear zone. Only then will its neighbours stop competing for influence over the peninsula, and Koreans themselves will be given a chance to reconcile. As a result, Korea will become a peaceful and stable regional balancer at the centre of Northeast Asia.