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The Vancouver Foreign Ministers Meeting on Security in Korea: Well-Orchestrated Unity?

By Denis Bright

In co-hosting the meeting of twenty foreign ministers in Vancouver at the Conference on developments in the Stability and Security of the Korean Peninsula both the Canadian and US Governments made rigorous preparations to minimise the risks of dissent between such a large international forum. The stability of such an unwieldy meeting must have been an imperative for the Trump Administration.

Foreign ministers attended the Vancouver meeting from twenty countries. Not all had been directly involved in the Korean War (1950-53) and the rationale for some of the invitees was highly questionable. As well as the two co-hosting nations the eighteen attendees were from Australia, Belgium, Colombia, Denmark, France, Greece, India, Italy, Japan, Netherlands, New Zealand, Norway, Philippines, Republic of Korea, Sweden, Thailand, Turkey and the United Kingdom.

The Canadian Foreign Minister Chrystia Freeland telegraphed her firm stand in support of UN Security Council sanctions against the DPRK well before the main event in Vancouver:

Canada condemns in the strongest terms North Korea’s continued ballistic missile launches, in direct violation of many United Nations Security Council resolutions. This latest launch is a reckless and dangerous act that threatens regional and global security,” Freeland said in a statement.

Foreign Minister Freeland added an element of uncertainty by speaking in French in her welcoming remarks at the Vancouver Convention Centre. This required Rex Tillerson to fumble with the translation head-set provided to all delegates.

Canada’s commitment to more rules-based diplomacy would have been music to the ears of other stalwarts from member states of the US Global Military Alliance who had accepted invitations from the hosts.

Canada went still further than expected by offering $US 3.25 million to a State Department Programme that will help countries enforce sanctions against the DPRK.

Canada’s co-operation was re-enforced by Japan’s commitment to the Trump Administration. Japanese Foreign Minister Taro Kono added a blunt assessment of the current situation:

“I am aware that some people argue that now that North Korea is engaging in inter-Korea dialogue, we should reward them by lifting up sanctions or by providing some sort of assistance,” he said at the meeting, adding that such a response was premature.

“I believe that North Korea wants to buy some time to continue their nuclear and missile programs,” Kono said. Those who disagree, he said, are “just too naive.”

Significance of the Inter-Korean Thaw

Such determination suggested that the event had been planned as an international war cabinet. Its agenda had been seriously distracted by the unexpected Inter-Korean Thaw associated with preparations for the Winter Olympics. The Trump Administration had planned for agendas to strengthen sanctions against the DPRK:

During the meeting delegates will be reviewing the sanctions currently in place and talk about ways to ensure they are being properly enforced.

U.S. State Department officials confirmed last week that they will discuss whether to intercept ships headed in and out of North Korea.

“We continue to explore all options to enhance maritime security and the ability to interdict maritime traffic, those transporting goods to and from the [North] that support the nuclear and missile program,” said Brian Hook, director of policy planning at the State Department.

When the meeting was first conceived back in September 2017, the Trump Administration had just unleashed its “fire and fury like the world has never seen,” in reaction to the North Korean regime’s weapons testing programmes.

While tensions have not eased, there has been a change in the political dynamics in just a few weeks. North and South Korea held their first official talks in two years, resulting in the North being allowed to participate in the Pyeongchang Olympics, along with a pledge to keep talking in the future.

The US managed to contain tensions between the twenty foreign ministers despite the surprise of the Inter-Korean Peace Initiatives. All representatives towed the official US line at the Vancouver meeting despite some pleasant diplomatic qualifications.

Managing the presence of Sweden’s Social Democratic Foreign Minister Margot Wallstrom was assisted by the approach of the national elections in 2018 and her government’s willingness to offer supportive comments on continued sanctions against the DPRK.

Opinion polls had also tightened at home for the Centre-Left Coalition of Prime Minister Stefan Lofven. This was not the time for left-leaning pre-election initiatives when the electorate was focused on domestic economic issues at home.

Response from Foreign Minister Margot Wallstrom in Sweden

Foreign Minister Margot Wallstrom had also offered a pragmatic stance in her address to the Security Council on 15 December 2017. Sweden supported rigorous sanctions in Security Council Resolution 2375. However, this commitment to Rules Based Diplomacy came with some diplomatic niceties:

Over the last year, tensions on the Korean Peninsula have continued to rise. They have now reached a very dangerous level. Provocations have been accompanied by an increase in confrontational rhetoric. In this environment, the potential for mistakes, misunderstandings and miscalculations is high.

In parallel to effectively implementing the sanctions regime, we must undertake further work to reduce tensions, to advance the prospects for a comprehensive settlement. Sanctions alone will not resolve the current situation. Intensified and creative diplomatic efforts that pave the way for a peaceful, diplomatic and political solution are urgently needed.

The situation must be approached without prejudice, and we must be prepared to consider both new and previous proposals and agreements. In this regard, there is also a need to explore the possibilities for regional security cooperation and arrangements. Sweden is contributing to these diplomatic efforts. We welcome Under Secretary-General Feltman’s recent visit to the DPRK.

This Council has the responsibility to uphold peace and security. There is no military solution to the crisis on the Korean Peninsula. We have to exhaust every avenue for diplomacy and dialogue. Efforts are urgent. The consequences of failure would be disastrous.

While Foreign Minister Margot Wallstrom’s remarks in Vancouver are not yet available on the usual Swedish official media outlet sites, relations are improving between NATO and this traditionally neutral European country and was acknowledged in NATO communications just prior to the Vancouver Meeting (NATO Online ,14 January 2018).

Response from South Korea’s Kang Kyung-wha

With Sweden caught up in conventional diplomatic rhetoric, there was always the possibility that South Korea’s South Korea’s Foreign Minister, Kang Kyung-wha might break ranks with the Trump Administration. President Moon’s government in Seoul had indeed made the thaw in relations with the DPRK possible.

As with Margot Wallstrom’s speech, the South Korean remarks at the Vancouver meeting in support of peace initiatives were heavily qualified by criticisms of the DPRK. The fine print of Kang Kyung-wha’s address contained some qualified dissenting remarks:

While we endeavour to make the most of the new opening in Inter-Korean dialogue, we are well aware that sustained improvements in inter-Korean relations cannot take place without advances in efforts to resolve the North Korean nuclear issue, and vice versa. The two tracks must be pursued in complementarity. Denuclearization is a fundamental element of a lasting peace on the Korean peninsula.

Thus, as we endeavour to engage the North before, during and perhaps beyond Pyeongchang, we do so in clear sight of the denuclearization imperative.

The complete, verifiable, irreversible denuclearization of North Korea remains the unwavering goal of the Korean government and the international community. As long as North Korea continues down the path of nuclear development, sanctions will remain in place, and Korea will continue to work closely with the international community to force a change of course on North Korea. The fundamental resolution of the Korean Peninsula related issues cannot be achieved without the denuclearization of North Korea, and we will continue to seek realistic and effective ways to resume denuclearization talks at the earliest possible date.

It was President Moon’s practical actions to ease Inter-Korean tensions which made up for the absence of more daring rhetoric in the presence of a line-up of numerous member states of the US Global Alliance in Vancouver.

Orchestrating an international conference in Vancouver that provided a forum for staunch US Allies such as Colombia and the Netherlands was made easier by the absence of legitimate representatives from China and Russia as well as the UN Secretary-General.

Fortunately, the high-level talks at the Peace House in Panmunjom on 9 January 2018 foiled such best made plans by the Trump Administration.

Instead of arriving in tanks from the DPRK as anticipated by the Trump Administration during the Korean Missile Crisis, a small delegation would soon arrive from the North by bus to inspect the PyeongChang Winter Olympic site. From Seoul, the delegation would be whisked onto the new high-speed KTX train for the 180-kilometre-long journey to the PyeongChang Olympic Site.

As the US domestic electorate mobilises against the divisive politics of the Trump Administration, it is time for activists across the US Global Military Alliance to revise Cat Steven’s Peace Train lyrics (1971) for these new troubled times:

Cause from the edge of darkness

Dare ride the Peace Train.

Time for activists to take humanity

From the brink of war again.

Denis Bright (pictured) is a registered teacher and a member of the Media, Entertainment and Arts Alliance (MEAA). Denis has recent postgraduate qualifications in journalism, public policy and international relations. He is interested in promoting pragmatic public policies that are compatible with contemporary globalization.



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  1. kerri

    The question I keep asking is why should any nuclear power give up its weapons while the US refuses to decrease their arsenal. At the present the argument of level heads prevailing seems moot.

  2. Matters Not

    Possessing nuclear weapons is bad. Using nuclear weapons is far worse. Now who used nuclear weapons? And more than once.

    No US moral high ground to be found.

  3. Jack Russell

    Maybe it’s time for the rest of the world to apply full sanctions on the USA – nothing in or out – until they learn to mind their own business, instead of everbody elses? Time Out for the global bullies sounds good to me.

  4. Chris

    Australia needs to be more independent at international forums. Where is the spirit of John Curtin who once defied Winston Churchill and brought back the 7th AIF Division to save Australia from a Japanese invasion.

  5. Lalnama

    As stated today maybe the USA is the problem , not actually assisting with solutions but adding to them or causing world disharmony

  6. Mia

    The governments of South and North Korea are meeting to sort out a peace solution without the input of others. It seems the world has not learnt anything from such conflicts as the Vietnam war.

  7. Paul

    Thanks Denis,

    I’m on board the peace train!

    I hope that positive talks can continue between the north and south.

    I also hope that the testing that we saw last year also stops. It helps no one. It isolates the north even further, which is not fair on its people.

    Let’s have a peaceful and caring 2018.

  8. Glenorchy McBride

    My Opinions on The KOREAN Drama?

    I think it may be sensible to give The Young King a productive way to prove himself to The West ~ by INCLUDING him, rather than EXCLUDING him.

    Anybody can see that any in public position of responsibility given to him, he will do his best, and utilize the entire resources of his country to produce exceptionally high-quality outputs.

    The UN could invite The Young King to personally assume a Public Position of High Non-Military Responsibility as head of a UN Policy Group.

    Art thou Shocked, O Muggle?

    A Genuine Responsibility of Profound Significance that will give him the opportunity for ongoing public attention, in The West.

    A Global Warming Policy Panel would be the sort of panel, I think.

    He might have some new thinking on the problems, and he will certainly activate every academic in South Korea to competitively produce better solutions than The Western Governments have yet produced.

    He will need to be The Number One Man on The Panel ~ and the position should be a genuine honour, not merely a second or third rank insult.

    And then we will GENUINELY recognize, acknowledge, and edify him for his successes ~ without any political pettiness of refusing to acknowledge “different” people when they demonstrate virtuosity.

    If he is trying to Prove himself, and we have isolated him and allowed him no other ways of expression, then is it not sensible to give him an opportunity show his that he has the qualities of character to be a Contributing and Responsible Member of The World Community?

    I think he merely wants us to understand that he is not ^!@&#% to be kicked around.

    Therefore, the act of arguing with him is not necessary in the same way as it was with countries who were genuinely out to achieve violence, martial horror, and world domination.

    In fact, the act of arguing with him on this point is the act of disagreeing with him on the central emotional premise at play, i.e. that he is “not ^!@&#% to be kicked around” ~ and I think that is premise on which it is both genuinely dangerous to argue with him.

    Because he obviously isn’t “^!@&#% to be kicked around, regardless of how you might sneer at him”.

    He is genuinely worthy of respect, whatever you might think of him.

    He has unified his country, despite what must have been an unseen hailstorm of spy attacks and intrigues played against him from the instant his father died.

    He is not merely “some dumb kid” ~ he is going to grow up to be something, if he survives.

    I think we should congratulate him, and offer him a non-military chance to prove himself, and thus role an identity through which The Free World can acknowledge him as a valuable and respected member of the world community.

    A leadership role like in a practical administrative task within The UN ~ he is an administrator/organizational strategist, and that is the primary skill his Father has given to him.

    If he is successful in the role of honour, there will be mutual celebrations between our culture ~ and the first ties of national friendship have begun.

    And every world leader loves assuming these sorts of positions and earning the ribbons and ceremonial amulets that they wear at big serious formal wine-drinking diplomatic event where they show off their collections of achievement and honours and titles.

    I think Korea is obviously a valuable entity ~ because non-valuable entities don’t stand down the biggest power on this planet and refuse to submit.

    I think we should have recruited him, and his father.

    If you want to recruit him ~ give him VOICE.

    An Opportunity to Shine.

    A Diplomatic Invitation to a Position of Honour ~ but make it a relaxed position, where he can get to know us, but he is not required to give of himself anything he is not comfortable giving.

    And it should be a fun situation ~ everything practical that will contribute to the building of this BRIDGE.

    Thus, he will create for himself a new “role” in our relationship ~ a role in which he can be respected, instead of hated, a role in which he can contribute his personality to instead of being isolated from opportunities to contribute, a role in which he can be somebody competent, worthwhile, valued, helpful, liked, and respected in the context of his harmonious dealings with The West.

    Because then they will be happier dealings.

    That is my comment on the subject.

    Peace, Love, and The Professional Liberation Business of America, The UK, and Australia (“Buy Now, Pay Later” ~ The Military Industrial Complex we LOVE by LIBERTY’s Own TEAT),
    Glenorchy McBride III


  9. Denis Bright in Brisbane

    Thanks Glenorchy for making a well thought out contribution to the discussion of this topic. Organizing an International Forum
    in Vancouver as a War Cabinet makes no contribution to the resolution of the Korean Problem which has already caused one inconclusive war.

  10. James

    The 2018 Peace Train is obviously a high speed bullet train!

  11. Tessa

    President Moon of South Korea is our latter-day Gough Whitlam. Moon Jae In has surprised the world. Thanks for researching this article Denis. Hopefully Penny Wong will surprise the world again if Malcolm Turnbull chooses to risk an early election.


    2 km swim ain’t easy Dennis, oh great article dennis by the way 🙂

  13. Maria H

    Is there any hope that one day the North Korean military will remove their leader from office for inflicting such poverty and suffering on their people?

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