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LONDON — Just before the beginning of this year’s meeting of the National People’s Congress, Chinese Prime Minister Wen Jiabao sent a message to NPC members about to arrive in Beijing: Chi- na is still a socialist country led by a communist party and will remain so for at least another hundred years.

Why would party leaders go out of their way to remind the world that the Chinese Communist Party is top dog in China?

Actually, Wen’s speech was a message to the United States, complaining about how President George W. Bush and Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice have taken over negotiations with North Korea, or the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea.

For several years the Americans had refused to negotiate directly with North Korea, insisting that all meetings be held in Beijing by way of the six-party talks — the six being North Korea, U.S., China, Russia, South Korea and Japan. The Americans had refused North Korean leaders’ requests for bilateral talks.

After North Korea exploded a nuclear weapon Oct. 9, the six-party talks began to fall apart. The U.S. was able to get four other members to agree in principle to a series of measures to penalize North Korea for setting off the bomb. However, China, Russia, South Korea and Japan made it clear that they thought the anti-North Korean measures were pointless.

Once the U.S. realized it was losing control, and even substantial influence, over other members in the talks, it decided to move away and the U.S. representative, Assistant Secretary of State Christopher Hill, began to change his position. He dropped his earlier stand against bilateral talks.

In December, the U.S. leadership, seeking serious movement on the North Korea issue, dropped its refusal to talk bilaterally with the new nuclear power and made substantial changes in their negotiating position. They said they would negotiate bilaterally and, for the first time, discuss certain issues with North Korean leaders.

The North Korean leaders had achieved their objective and agreed to meet the U.S. negotiator bilaterally in Berlin. This effectively killed the six-party talks. The U.S. and North Korean leaders held up two fingers to the other four members, who were not invited to Berlin.

The draft agreement that Hill and his North Korean counterpart reached was read by Rice on her trip to Berlin, as she traveled home to Washington from the Middle East. She was so impressed with the document that she telephoned Bush and said “Let’s go with it!” He agreed.

U.S. congressional politicians are not the only ones who remain uncertain about treating the North Koreans as kindly as Bush, Rice and Hill say they should be treated. Many have serious doubts about the content of the U.S.-North Korea agreement.

The other four members of the six-party talks have made it obvious why the North Koreans and U.S. leaders decided that meaningful negotiations could only occur outside the six-party framework: The U.S. had dropped its main complaint against North Korea — that the North has the capacity for developing uranium-based nuclear weapons. Now the U.S. is suggesting only that such facilities might exist.

This means that the U.S. can now apologize for making its strongly worded accusations and holding back North Korea’s development. It is now welcoming the North Korea’s entry into the international community.

Meanwhile, Russia, Japan, South Korea and China know what has happened to them, and they are not happy with being sidelined by U.S. leaders. China is very upset.

Russia has laughed through the duration of the six-party talks. It has just reached a bilateral agreement with North Korean leaders that it will accept repayment of an $8 billion debt in the form of a gift of a major North Korean port and significant mines. Moreover, Russia has joked that the agreed price will be adjusted to allow for its contribution to the agreed supply of 1 million tons of oil (or substitutes).

Japan has focused completely on the few Japanese it claims were abducted years ago by North Korea. The Japanese say they are still alive and have let it be known that nothing else matters. They don’t want to discuss compensation for the terrible damage they did to North Korea from 1905 to 1945.

South Korean leaders have continued extensive bilateral negotiations to expand support for mutually beneficial development in North Korea. They refused to stop this even after North Korea set off its nuclear bomb; they also refused to agree with U.S. officials on the full package of penalties to be imposed against North Korea.

China is angry. Having thought that the world had recognized that the six-party talks centered on Beijing — an indication of China’s growth in world status and power — it now feels that it has received a political kick in the teeth by Bush and his cronies.

Which is why the angry Chinese leaders (and their rich relatives) want you to know that the CCP is going to be in power for at least another 100 years — and develop weapons that could destroy parts of the U.S.

In a time of both misinformation and too much information, quality journalism is more crucial than ever.
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