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Wednesday, 11 May 1994
Page: 686


Senator TEAGUE (7.20 p.m.) —During the lunchtime debate I spoke about my recent visit to Korea. I made a number of observations and evaluations arising from that trip. I did not have time to address one area, the current nuclear question involving North Korea and the IAEA, so I will add these remarks to the speech I began during the lunchtime debate.

  North Korea has developed, using former USSR technology and some personnel for advice—and, in fact, using former USSR uranium—a nuclear power industry. In recent years this has been one of the most concerning aspects for all regional countries and for others in the Pacific, such as the United States and Australia. The danger is that, whilst this nuclear power plant has been producing electricity, the uranium fuel rods have been producing plutonium; and the plutonium can be diverted to make a nuclear bomb.

  If North Korea were to have a nuclear capability in its military arsenal, this would have a concatenating effect, a chain reaction, in other regional countries whereby they may take defensive responses and we could have a break-out in the proliferation of nuclear weapons. None of us want to see that. So the root of the problem is that we need to see an international audit inspection of the nuclear power facilities in North Korea.

  The reactor near Pyongyang was closed down in late April. In the normal operation of nuclear power stations, the fuel rods would be replaced in the next couple of weeks. Accordingly, this month of May is a critical time during which North Korea may try to change the fuel rods. If it did so without proper international audit, the plutonium could be diverted. Then certainly all of the doubts with regard to the nuclear facility there will multiply. We are, then, at a critical point in that the nuclear problem with North Korea will be all the more on the agenda of regional countries and others throughout the world.

  North Korea has signed the international agreement which requires the IAEA, the International Atomic Energy Agency, to conduct regular inspections. At a meeting earlier this year of the IAEA in Vienna there was a unanimous council resolution that there be an urgent inspection of the nuclear facilities in North Korea. Australia chaired the IAEA when that resolution was adopted. I support the resolution, as, I believe, does every country in the world. I have not heard of one dissenter from the position that there should be this inspection. In fact, this is the issue: there need to be comprehensive and totally satisfactory international inspections by the authority, that is, the IAEA. But the question is: how do we make sure this happens?

  I should also draw attention to the United Nations Security Council chairman's statement—I use the word `statement' advisedly—calling for negotiations and dialogue to achieve that outcome. There has not been a resolution of the United Nations Security Council, but the chairman made a well-informed statement.

  Following my visit to Korea in the past month, I also visited China and had discussions on this issue, amongst many others. I believe that dialogue and negotiations are the way forward. Certainly there should be nothing attempted that could be interpreted as provocation, as this may lead to military action. It would be mindless and tragic in the first order if there were any military action by North Korea. The key words are `negotiations' and `dialogue'—even if it takes weeks and months.

  There is this critical issue of the rods being moved this month, which will require North Korea's direct response to international urgings for an audit. It is the view of the Republic of Korea that there should be negotiations. It is also the view of officials in senior positions with whom I spoke in China that there should be negotiations. It is a Chinese policy, China being a near neighbour and friend of North Korea, that North Korea should not have any nuclear capability, that it should not have any nuclear bombs. Living right on the spot, the Republic of South Korea wants to see patience and negotiations; it does not want to see any avoidable provocation.

  I believe the USA should also participate in this process of negotiation, dialogue and patience. Australia has a role to play in encouraging the United States not to be preoccupied with precedents such as Haiti or Libya and so take action into its own hands. It should not take precipitate actions, even US-imposed sanctions. Again and again in Seoul I heard concern expressed that the US might be less patient than other regional countries. There was anxiety about that.

  I see no possibility that the United Nations will impose sanctions, because China will veto them. There is no doubt about the Chinese position. China believes it can gain a satisfactory outcome—that is, full IAEA inspections—by negotiation, and it will not allow its neighbour and ally, North Korea, to be subjected to UN-imposed sanctions. Should sanctions be imposed by the United States and Japan, or by some small number of countries acting of their own accord, it would be a dangerous development. I believe that sanctions are so serious that we need to get maximum international support if they are to be acted upon by any one or two countries.

  I concede that the salary remittances from Korean families working and living in Japan are very substantial for Korea, amounting to some $US600 million, as a low estimate, up to three times that amount, $US1,800 million. Should this money be blocked, it would have an enormous detrimental effect on the North Korean economy. It is already staggering, it is already hardly viable; and this would have a very serious impact.

  North Korea does have external trade, mostly with China. Perhaps 60 per cent to 80 per cent of its external trade is with China. If China did not participate in the sanctions, there would be that continuing avenue of international economic action. But the point to really grasp is that North Korea has a very small economy with very few economic relations with the rest of the world. Sanctions are an arrow in the quiver of those involved in negotiations, but I believe the emphasis must be on dialogue and negotiations. I certainly look forward to that leading to a satisfactory result.

  I have not the time to expand upon my view that I believe that there will be unification of the two Koreas in the next two to five years because the north will collapse. I believe its economy is in its dying stages and that we will see an outcome which is the wish of the peoples on both sides of the border, and that is the unification of Korea.