There has been a spate of diplomatic activity in recent weeks as China ramps up its bid for a resumption of the Six Party Talks. China’s representative for Korean Peninsula Affairs Wu Dawei spent five days in the DPRK at the end of August consulting with DPRK’s First Vice Foreign Minister Kim Kye-gwan. The meeting came in advance of a Track 1.5 or 2 meeting (depending on who shows), scheduled for September 18 and sponsored by the China Institute of International Studies to “celebrate” the tenth anniversary of the talks and the 8th anniversary of the September 2005 Joint Statement (Kyodo coverage here). The Institute had hoped that the Six Parties would all send senior officials, or even their chief negotiators, in effect informally reconvening the talks. But by China’s own admission—in a briefing to the other parties—the foreign ministry was forced to admit that it had not secured a definitive statement of intent from Pyongyang. Among others, Yang Yi—a retired admiral and until recently the director of the Institute for Strategic Studies at China’s National Defense University—vented his frustration in an interview for Yonhap, saying that North Korea’s ambition to be recognized as a nuclear power was totally unacceptable.
American diplomats have been out in the region lowering expectations. In mid-August Daniel Russel was appointed as Assistant Secretary of State for East Asian and Pacific Affairs; he was on his maiden voyage to the region in his new capacity. (Russel has a particularly long and strong connection with Japan, dating to a stint as Assistant to Mike Mansfield during his tenure as Ambassador to the country in the mid-1980s.) In Seoul, Russel reiterated the broad argument about North Korea isolating itself but did not say explicitly that North Korea had to do everything before talks could resume and left the door open on attending the upcoming Chinese seminar. Glyn Davies, however, put a harder edge on the message. In a joint press opportunity with his South Korean counterpart Cho Tae-yong, Davies reiterated that North Korea needed to forswear its nuclear ambitions and actually do something before talks could resume.
With respect to the Chinese meeting, Davies noted drily that he hoped the academics attending had a good time but that it was not appropriate for the US government to send anyone—or anyone of any standing—because of the lack of favorable conditions. We personally think that someone should show up and let the Chinese do some real work; the risk of getting boxed in appears pretty low to us given that Beijing has been unable to come up with anything concrete from Pyongyang. But hey, we are just one of those lowly academics, in any case were not invited, and of course would not want to inadvertently have to share a stage with a North Korean.