North Korea’s nuclear ambitions seem to have died down, at least for now. The Six-Party Talks have, at long last, succeeded – thanks, apparently, to China’s solid opposition to the nuclearization of northeast Asia. Under the aegis of the Six-Party umbrella, the United States and North Korea have even held the bilateral talks that North Korea’s Kim Jong Il has long coveted.
So, for now, northeast Asia is temporarily calmer and less unstable than it has been for almost two decades. Yet it remains a potential flashpoint.
During this time of tension, an increasingly self-confident South Korea began to chart a course independent of its American patron. In November 2005, the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) accused the South Korean government of having enriched a tiny amount of uranium – to a level close to what could be used in an atomic weapon. The government denied this, claiming that the experiments were conducted without its knowledge by academic researchers “for scientific interest.”
South Korea’s evolving foreign policy also may involve moving closer to China, as Korean nationalists join the Chinese in resisting Japan’s rival claims to potential hydrocarbon deposits in the East China Sea and the Sea of Japan. New generations of South Koreans, who have no personal recollections of – and perhaps only casual interest in – the Korean War, apparently resent what they regard as America’s undermining South Korea’s “sunshine policy” toward North Korea.