February 9, 2017 7:30 am JST

Task force urges US to work with China on North Korean threat

Many recommendations at odds with Trump's policy platform

ARIANA KING, Nikkei staff writer

NEW YORK -- The U.S. government should cooperate with China in dealing with the nuclear threat posed by North Korea, suggests a report released Wednesday by an American bipartisan task force.

The 20-member panel, made up of China experts and former U.S. government officials, believes that confronting the nuclear issue should be one of the Donald Trump administration's top Asian policy priorities.

"The single-greatest danger to a true security catastrophe in the region comes from the continued progress of North Korea's nuclear and missile programs," said task force member James Steinberg, a professor of social science, international affairs and law, and former deputy secretary of state under President Barack Obama.

The report suggests that the Trump administration initiate urgent, high-level negotiations with China and restart dialogue between the relevant parties, offering Pyongyang a long-sought peace treaty in exchange for a verified freeze of nuclear and missile programs.

Reviving the so-called "six-party talks" on North Korea's nuclear program through a cooperative U.S.-China effort will "not only address the single-most urgent problem, but it will become kind of a platform for greater cooperation about the broader problems of Northeast Asia," Steinberg suggested at a briefing introducing the report at the Asia Society in New York.

The six-party talks involve China, the U.S., Japan, Russia, South Korea and North Korea.

President Trump's cabinet appointments, including Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, Defense Secretary James Mattis and U.N. Ambassador Nikki Haley, have taken a hard-line stance on North Korea. During a recent trip to the region, Mattis warned of an "effective and overwhelming" response to any nuclear weapons use and reaffirmed the U.S. commitment to deploy the Terminal High Altitude Area Defense missile defense system in South Korea.

If the North Korean nuclear threat "remains acute," the U.S. should consider such steps as deploying THAAD and imposing additional sanctions on Chinese banks and businesses tied to the North's nuclear program, the report said.

A number of recommendations outlined in the report, however, are at odds with policies Trump has pushed for. These include increasing U.S.-China cooperation on climate issues, quickly ratifying the Trans-Pacific Partnership free trade agreement, and firmly adhering to the one-China policy.

Winston Lord, U.S. ambassador to China under President Ronald Reagan and a task force member, said that there were some promising signs in Trump's Asia policy, as demonstrated through the initial actions of Mattis and Tillerson, but expressed concern at the president's temperament.

"Often his instincts we don't have a problem with -- whether it's China's unfair trade practices or whether Taiwan deserves more dignity," Lord said. "The question is how do you act on that?"

"We're going to have to keep our eye not only on how the policies evolve but how they're executed," he said.

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