ASEAN KEY DESTINATIONS
China gives the stalemate a happy ending
Imagine this agreement had been signed at the forum in Kuala Lumpur a year ago, when the Korean nuclear problem was the main threat to Pacific security. Even terrorism and natural disasters came second on the agenda to Pyongyang's bomb. Normal relations with North Korea were impossible and it was seen as a pariah state.
In between the two forums, a breakthrough was made at the six-party talks in Beijing, where the Korean problem had been debated for years. Now the North Korean foreign minister has changed his image and is a regular participant at the ARF along with his colleagues from ASEAN and their partners: the United States, China, Russia, Japan, Australia and other nations that carry weight in the Pacific.
North Korea will soon take an active part in the regional effort to maintain security. This has substantially changed the regional situation. The issue that was supposed to be given top priority looks different now. Russia and the United States have jointly proposed a resolution on preventing the spread of nuclear weapons in the region, but it now looks much less urgent than it would have a year ago.
Spokesmen for each of the six participants in the Beijing talks on Korea gathered for a meeting in Manila, an event that was applauded by the forum's other participants. A new round of the six-party talks will resume in Beijing in September. The two Koreas, China, Russia, Japan and the United States will discuss the procedures for implementing agreements previously reached in Beijing.
The participants in the Manila forum have just started to realize that Asia and the Pacific have changed completely. One example: now, any good news about North Korea is perceived as yet another sign of the consolidation of Chinese power in the region.
Beijing put its reputation on the line when it assumed the lead role at the six-party talks on Korea. But it would have risked even more if it had been passive because the Korean crisis was a real thorn in its side. In the worst-case-scenario - a war - it could have put a stop to China's economic growth and diminished its enhanced role in Asia. The whole region would have been affected.
The ARF forum, held every year in late July-early August, has long been a yardstick for measuring the growth of the influence of China and other regional powers in Southeast Asia and the Pacific. Needless to say, China looks much more impressive now than it did a year ago. In Manila, it was represented by new Foreign Minister Yang Jiechi, who replaced Li Chao-hsing. The new minister spoke about a change of strategy and a new understanding of Asian security. He said that by promoting trade and development projects with Vietnam, Myanmar and Cambodia, China was contributing to Asia's overall prosperity. His tone was optimistic and confident. China has shown once again that it is vital for Asian security. It is also true that the economic situation in Asia would not look good without China.
China has grown stronger. Who has become weaker, then?
China's success has not left anyone empty-handed. The settlement of the Korean crisis has resolved a host of problems for South Korea, the United States, Japan and North Korea itself. All these nations are participants in the ARF forum and share common security concerns. This is why they all stood to gain from the resolution of the Korean crisis.
By RIA Novosti political commentator Dmitry Kosyrev from Manila