Beijing Must Punish
Pyongyang, But Never Join Anti-North Alliance (Huanqiu, People's Republic of
Korea's third nuclear test, one of the world's most vexing problems has taken a
turn that presents Chinese diplomacy with perhaps its greatest challenge in a generation. This
editorial from China's state-run Huanqiu
offers a glimpse into the debate in Beijing about how to 'penalize' Pyongyang, and
whether now is the time to take part in sanctions being imposed on North Korea
by the U.S., Japan and South Korea.
The United States, Japan, South Korea and Europe have issued
strong signals that they will impose severe sanctions against the Democratic
People's Republic of Korea. Meanwhile, the DPRK may
accelerate the process of nuclear miniaturization and so equip its troops, Japan
will follow suit with U.S. backing, and Europe will assist. For China, however
thankless, involvement will be impossible to avoid.
Washington, Tokyo and Seoul are anxious to see China change
its policy toward North Korea, and continue to apply pressure to that end. Because
Pyongyang's nuclear activities undermine China's interests, it is necessary for
it to impose certain "penalties." The key issue for China is to
decide what the extent of such penalties will be.
North Korea is determined to possess nuclear technology. During
the years of Six-Party
Talks, the United States, Japan, along with South and North Korea, failed
to seize the opportunity to achieve a genuine easing of relations among themselves.
The issue has passed a critical juncture. The confrontation between North Korea
and the United States was so sharp, neither the U.S., North Korea or the others
are likely to return to the talks. North Korea has a "fight to the death"
mentality when it comes to its efforts to build nuclear weapons.
Even if China fully backs sanctions being proposed by the U.S.,
Japan and South Korea, the denuclearization of North Korea is unlikely to be
achieved. And if Beijing alters its position toward Pyongyang too rapidly, it would
become the central variable and focus of attention in the entire situation.
This must be avoided. This is very much in the interests of
the United States, Japan, and South Korea. And at least for a time, China would
become North Korea's leading adversary, which brings to mind what happened with
the Soviet Union and Vietnam [With both
countries, close ties eventually soured leading to armed conflict]. If China,
the United States, Japan and South Korea form a group, this is what is likely to
happen between China and North Korea.
China cannot be considered a North Korea ally, but at no
point should China turn North Korea into an enemy, especially as it is crossing
the nuclear threshold. This should be the strategic bottom line of China's
North Korean policy.
However, China should be bold enough to put action behind its
opposition to Pyongyang's nuclear activities. Otherwise, Pyongyang will take it for granted that China will be on its side, and even mistake Beijing's position for
fear. The international community will not accept China's blind protection
of North Korea.
We contend that China should "punish" North Korea,
but the severity of the "penalty" should not exceed the sanctions
being imposed on the DPRK by the U.S., Japan, South
Korea and Europe. That is, it should reduce its assistance to the North. Anything
else would attract the unwelcomed attention of Korean and global public
opinion. This should be China's bottom line for participating in international
sanctions against theDPRK.
The North Korea nuclear issue is extremely complex and the
peninsula remains in a state of Cold War. For its own reasons, some
geopolitical, North Korea failed to benefit from previous attempts at reform
and opening up. The West tends to perceive the North Korea issue from a largely
ideological perspective, and the United States has its own strategic
considerations when it comes to the peninsula. If Chinese public opinion falls
in line with the United States, Japan and South Korea, it will cause perceptions
of China's interests to go astray.
Too much tension has accumulated on the Korean Peninsula,
and the nuclear issue has become a time bomb. North Korea must assume blame,
but the United States, Japan and South Korea are just as responsible. It is extremely
unreasonable for Washington, Tokyo and Seoul to demand that China change its
attitude toward North Korea, but make no changes themselves.
China should stick to being a reconciler and harmonizer on
the nuclear issue, and not join one side in confronting the other. It is
unlikely that China will become allies with North Korea, but it is even more unlikely
that it would join an alliance with the United States, Japan and South Korea. China
mustn't sleepwalk and be dragged along with the U.S., Japan and South Korea.
With the North Korea nuclear bomb program gradually
taking shape, it may try to use its nuclear activities to break its isolation
and change the attitudes of the United States, Japan and North Korea. It may
be that diplomacy will fail and tensions on the peninsula will further escalate
and lead to war. China must prepare to cope for the most extreme situation on
the peninsula. It is important to safeguard its own security and not be held
hostage by either side.
China is not in a position to undertake a large-scale
adjustment of its North Korea policy. But that doesn't mean there will be no
changes or adjustments. Now, facing a reckless North Korea and an anxious U.S.,
Japan and South Korea, China must act to maintain a robust and dynamic Northeast
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