Volume 6, 2004

Six-Party Talks on North Korea’s nuclear weapons programs dominated the multilateral agenda. Although North Korea balked at accepting “complete, verifiable, and irreversible dismantlement” of its entire nuclear program, it insisted that it was committed to resolving the issue through the Six-Party Talks venue. South Korea embarked on an aggressive diplomatic campaign to prevent neo-conservatives in the Bush administration from taking a dominant role in US policymaking toward the DPRK. At the end of the year, the talks remained stalemated. Meanwhile, North Korea was actively engaged in bilateral diplomacy as Kim Jong-il visited with top officials in Beijing and held an historic summit with Japanese Prime Minister Koizumi in Pyongyang. Secretary of State Colin Powell and Foreign Minister Paek Nam-sun met at the ASEAN Regional Forum (ARF) ministerial meeting.

High-level interaction between the US and China focused much attention on Taiwan. Vice President Dick Cheney made a long-awaited visit to China and engaged in strategic dialogue with China’s top leaders, who underscored the dangers of Taiwan independence after the re-election of Taiwan’s President Chen. National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice unexpectedly decided to visit Beijing as well as Tokyo and Seoul as China failed to get a commitment to reduce US arms sales to Taiwan and intensify pressure on Taiwan President Chen Shui-bian to refrain from taking provocative steps toward the establishment of a legally independent state. The three visits to China by US Pacific Command Commander Adm. Thomas Fargo were also dominated by discussions about the Taiwan Strait.  

Terrorism was also a topic receiving major attention.  Russia was paralyzed in September by the siege in Beslan, where Chechen militants attacked a primary school. Also in September, Jemaah Islamiyah launched a truck bomb attack on the Australian Embassy in Jakarta. At the G8 summit, Presidents Bush and Putin expressed determination to continue the partnership in the war on terror. Following President Bush’s reelection, Southeast Asian leaders warned that the US war on terror and its Middle East policy must change to show that the US is not attacking Islam. 

Relations between China and Japan continued to sour, as the dispute over natural gas fields in the East China Sea continued to simmer, and Japanese patrol aircraft tracked a Chinese nuclear submarine through Japanese territorial waters.  Beijing’s subsequent apology paved the way for summit-level talks between Prime Minister Koizumi and President Hu Jintao and Premier Wen Jiabao, but without any substantive results.  Japan’s 3-1 victory over China in the China-hosted Asia Cup soccer tournament – helped to keep nationalist emotions high in both countries.   

2004 ended on a tragic note, as the death toll from the Dec. 26 tsunami approached the 150,000 mark and continued to climb.