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Hu-Obama Summit: Implications for Managing North Korea

February 2, 2011

Both North and South Koreans appear to have had disproportionately high expectations in the run-up to last week’s Hu-Obama summit, judging from their reluctant willingness to edge toward tension reduction and dialogue following the November 23rd Yeonpyeong Island artillery shelling and high tensions surrounding South Korea’s live-fire exercises on December 20th. In anticipation of potential improvements in Sino-U.S. coordination, North Korea launched a diplomatic charm offensive during the first two weeks of January. South Korea finally responded shortly following the Hu-Obama summit with proposals for inter-Korean military talks and talks to address nuclear issues. The Sino-U.S. Joint Statement provided a push to the two Koreas by calling for “sincere and constructive inter-Korean dialogue” and by explicitly mentioning enriched uranium as an item that should be on the agenda of renewed Six Party Talks, but the joint statement also exposes clear limits to Sino-U.S. agreement on how to approach North Korea.

The Sino-U.S. Joint Statement fails to explicitly mention UN Security Council Resolutions 1718 and 1874, and does not explicitly reiterate the need for stepped up counter-proliferation and export control efforts focused on preventing the transfer of fissile material-related technologies or know-how. This is a significant omission, given that China’s role in implementing an effective counter-proliferation program toward North Korea is critical. The statement also failed to explicitly mention or attribute responsibility for “recent developments” that have heightened tension on the Korean peninsula. There is no indication of agreement on a further UN role in addressing tensions on the Korean peninsula. The statement does not explicitly define “necessary steps” that would enable a return to the Six Party Talks process, indirectly underscoring the absence of a viable jointly-agreed process for achieving the shared objective of denuclearizing the Korean peninsula.

This piece was originally published on the Council on Foreign Relations blog Asia Unbound.

Scott Snyder directs The Asia Foundation’s Center for U.S.-Korea Policy. He can be reached at

View all posts by Scott Snyder


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