Volume 9, 2007

Following North Korea’s nuclear test in late 2006, the Six-Party Talks were revived, with an “action-for-action” game plan, for the phased implementation of the September 2005 joint denuclearization agreement. North Korea promised to shut down and seal its nuclear facilities at Yongbyon, and the Bush administration agreed to transfer back to North Korea $25 million in funds, frozen since 2005. Inter-Korean relations began to thaw as the ROK reinstated the formal channels of dialogue suspended for the past half-year, starting with ministerial talks held in Pyongyang Feb. 27 to March 2.  This laid the groundwork for a successful North-South summit, held Oct. 3-4 in Pyongyang, where the two Koreas committed to implement the Six-Party Talks agreement and increase cooperation on security, economic, and humanitarian issues. By the end of the year, North Korea had disabled its nuclear facilities and Beijing announced the “second phase” implementation plan at the Six-Party Talks, but a “complete and correct declaration” of all North Korean nuclear programs was nowhere to be found.

Relations between Beijing and Washington hit a rough patch, due to Washington’s decision to allow Taiwanese President Chen to make stopovers in the US and notification to Congress of a possible arms sale to Taiwan. However, US Defense Secretary Gates and China’s PLA Deputy Chief of the General Staff Zhang passed their initial diplomatic tests in their appearance at the Shangri-La Dialogue in Singapore. The 2nd round of the Strategic Economic Dialogue produced a few agreements, but failed to make headway on China’s currency valuation. Presidents Bush and Hu Jintao also met on the sidelines of the G8 summit in Heiligendamm, Germany. China’s refusal to allow the USS Kitty Hawk to make a scheduled visit in Hong Kong for Thanksgiving refocused attention on bilateral differences. It also highlighted the mistrust between the two militaries. Agreements were reached to promote better relations between the US and Chinese militaries during a visit to China by Defense Secretary Gates and a subsequent round of the Defense Consultative Talks.

This year saw a flurry of bilateral diplomatic activity. Inter-Korean relations saw two “firsts”: the much-delayed cross-border railway test and an inter-Korean business team that looked at ROK investments in China and Vietnam. A summit at Kennebunkport, Maine between Presidents Bush and Putin tried to smooth over the rhetoric bandied about between Moscow and Washington over the past several months. North and South Korea initiated their second summit. No mere symbolic event, the summit produced numerous follow-up meetings.

Multilateral activity throughout the rest of Asia also increased. The ASEAN Regional Forum and associated 10+X ministerial meetings aided steady progress on ASEAN’s first Charter. Asia’s largest multilateral naval exercise in decades took place in the eastern Indian Ocean Sept. 4-9, involving ships and aircraft from the US, India, Japan, Australia, and Singapore.