On August 23rd, Stephen Biegun, former U.S. Deputy Secretary of State, and Jonathan Powell, CEO of Inter Mediate (London), an international crisis mediation organization, were invited to the “GRAND THE VIEW FORUM” to share their first-hand experiences of “Negotiating with North Korea (DPRK)” and “International Mediation in a Multi-Polar World”, and to answer questions from the audience.
After the historic summit between the U.S. and North Korea held in Singapore in 2018, Mr. Biegun was appointed as the Special Representative for North Korea by then-President Donald Trump and participated in the Hanoi Summit, Panmunjom Meeting, and more than a dozen working-level meetings between the two countries. He said it would take a lot of political courage and wisdom on both sides to succeed in the talks. Washington and Pyongyang had once established a road map for the negotiations and clarified the goals to push forward the dialogues in several major directions, from normalizing US-DPRK relations, achieving peace on the Korean Peninsula, de-nuclearization, humanitarian assistance, to economic cooperation. However, due to a gap in understanding between the two parties and some domestic concerns of each country, the dialogues ended inconclusively and have not yet been able to restart.
Stephen Biegun believes that the U.S.-DPRK talks have offered us a few lessons. First, the negotiating parties must keep open reliable and sustainable communication channels. Once interrupted, it would be extremely difficult to restore them. Second, each party must designate a negotiation leader, to ward off “the politics of multiple doors” (each department acting on its own). Otherwise, it would lead to chaos. Last but not least, it is essential to keep in mind the discrepancies in the political systems and their potential impact on the bargaining, to avoid “measuring other people's corn by one's own bushel”. He added that although the US-North Korea talks have been suspended, there is still hope for the resumption in the near future. To this end, the two sides should open credible channels of communication, incorporate the unofficial track 2 and track 1.5 dialogues, and show goodwill gestures to each other.
Mr. Biegun further mentioned that the U.S. and China have closely cooperated and built mutual trust in their joint efforts to promote the resolution of the North Korean nuclear issue. He believed that there is much room for Sino-US cooperation in international conflict settlement through mediation and negotiation. Such cooperation will help ease tensions in the bilateral relationship and enhance mutual understanding in other areas.
Jonathan Powell, who served as the first Downing Street Chief of Staff under British Prime Minister Tony Blair from 1997 to 2007, has worked as a mediator on the Northern Ireland issue and a range of international conflicts over the years. He said that during the Cold War international mediation was difficult because of the "zero-sum game" between the two “blocs”, but with the end of it, significant results have been attained. He has personally taken an active part in a number of domestic and international mediation efforts in the multipolar world, including promoting the peace process in Northern Ireland, facilitating the disbanding of the ETA terrorist organization in Spain, and successfully pushing for a peace accord inked between President Juan Manuel Santos of Colombia and the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC), the country’s largest rebel organization.
Powell also witnessed the failures of international mediation in issues like Afghanistan and Libya. His being regretful urges him to summarize the lessons from these failures. He said that intergroup mediators must have the greatest inclusiveness, so that with whom to bargain cannot be decided by their own bias or preference. Only when all the forces related to the conflict are involved can the negotiation be likely to succeed. He thought that one of the main reasons for the unsuccessful mediation in Afghanistan was that the mediator panel had excluded the Taliban, the most vital local force, from the negotiation process from the very beginning.
Powell pointed out that in recent years China's international mediation capabilities have been on the rise, with one of the most notable cases being its facilitating the restoration of diplomatic ties between Saudi Arabia and Iran, which had been suspended for seven years. As the international community expects more from Beijing in the field of conflict mediation, he hopes that China will be able to give full play to its advantages and expedite more peace processes around the world.