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China: Fed Up With North Korea?
China: Fed Up With North Korea?
By David M. Lampton
Wednesday, June 4, 2003; Page A27
President Bush's just-concluded meeting with Chinese President Hu Jintao in Evian, France, came at a critical juncture in the U.S. effort to build a multilateral coalition to deal with North Korea's drive for nuclear weapons. Hu's cautious yet constructive stance in Evian shows that Beijing is angry at North Korea for precipitating a crisis and fearful of what war or breakdown in that country could mean for China.
What a difference a few months make. Last November, after personally hearing what several of China's most senior leaders had to say about the North Korean nuclear program and U.S. policy, I felt that Beijing was unduly complacent. Today, China is nearly apoplectic about Kim Jong Il's behavior. Chinese leaders already have increased cooperation with Washington and are debating the merits of still more extensive cooperation.
Six months ago, China's most senior leaders seemed concerned but not alarmed by North Korea's stated nuclear intentions. The formulation they employed was that they "preferred" not to see a nuclear North Korea -- a far cry from the American bottom line that such capabilities were absolutely unacceptable. The general Chinese line was that Kim probably was bluffing, that U.S. intelligence might not be accurate and that China had an overriding interest in peace and stability along its borders. Hundreds of thousands of North Koreans streaming into northern China, fleeing war or societal collapse induced by U.S. pressure, was what Beijing feared. (One can speculate, too, that Beijing was preoccupied with its leadership transition.)
But in March China sent its most senior diplomat, Qian Qichen, to Pyongyang to deliver the message that North Korea was to knock off its gratuitous provocations and start talking to Washington. Reinforcing the point, Beijing interrupted the flow of oil to dependent, hungry and cold North Korea. Shortly thereafter the North Koreans agreed to meet in Beijing with Assistant Secretary of State James Kelly.
Since that disquieting April meeting, a stream of knowledgeable Chinese has been coming to Washington to let it be known that Beijing is thinking outside the previous box. Among the more tantalizing though not yet mainstream suggestions is that "regime change" in Pyongyang might be the least of a multitude of evils.
What accounts for Beijing's hardening attitude? Quite simply, North Korea has jeopardized fundamental Chinese interests. And this comes on top of a list of grievances extending back a half-century -- all of which makes for a situation in which Beijing has had it with Kim.
The extent of the threat to Chinese interests became evident in the April meeting in Beijing among China, the United States and North Korea. There, North Korea asserted that it had nuclear weapons and said it might conduct a "physical demonstration" or export them. The threat of export was off the charts for both the Americans and Chinese. This jolted and embarrassed Beijing. As one Chinese visitor put it to me recently, "North Korea really is a rogue nation! . . . They might sell [nuclear material] even to the Hui," a minority people often accused of "separatism" in western China. "They are a destabilizing force in all Northeast Asia."
For the first time the Chinese apparently see that they could be the victims of proliferation. Further, nuclear proliferation around China's borders likely wouldn't stop with Pyongyang. It would spread to South Korea, then possibly Japan, and perhaps Taiwan. China would face nuclear regimes at all points of the compass.
Moreover, China's trade and economic interests with South Korea far exceed those with North Korea. While North Korea sucks up about one-third of China's foreign aid budget, Seoul is a major direct investor in China. Finally, a principal Chinese objective is to avoid destabilizing friction with the United States; Beijing understands that Washington is deadly serious about the North Korean nuclear problem.
Chinese anger at Pyongyang is exacerbated by a long, unhappy history. It starts with the North Korean effort to obscure China's role in saving the regime in the Korean War, proceeds to North Korea's execution of cadres thought to have links with China and moves on to its lies to Beijing about its nuclear ties to Moscow in the 1970s and its 1998 missile test over Japan, which sparked Tokyo's cooperation with Washington on missile defense. The sad tale concludes with anger that Pyongyang proceeded to establish a special economic zone near China's border despite Beijing's explicit opposition.
China's North Korea policy is under strenuous debate and remains unsettled. Nonetheless, the range of things Beijing is considering is striking, including ratcheting up economic pressure on the North. Beyond the aforementioned discussion of "regime change," some Chinese also are rethinking how many refugees they might be able to accommodate. Even some in the military, an organization in which affinity for Pyongyang seems to run deepest, are wondering how far to go in supporting North Korea.
Though no responsible Chinese wants a war in North Korea, China might end up sitting on the sidelines if conflict breaks out, much as it did during the U.S. invasion of Iraq -- as long as Chinese security interests in the post-conflict situation are respected.
What does Washington need to do to see Chinese policy move in a more supportive direction? First, U.S. policy must have Japanese and South Korean support. It needs to hold out the possibility of cooperation with Pyongyang if the North moves in a positive direction, as well as the certainty of negative outcomes should the North continue on its present course. Beijing will not get out ahead of South Korea and Japan. Second, through talks with North Korea, Washington must establish for all to see whether Kim Jong Il will trade his nuclear programs for the regime's future security and a more normal relationship with the international community.
The writer is director of China studies at the Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies and at the Nixon Center.
China has never had any compassion with anyone, at least not that I can remember. If it suits their interests to fuck North Korea, they'll do it; the article humanises the whole Chinese political decision making process, but it seems to me that their great strength is that the decision making process is logical and looks to the very long term. Apoplexy seems a strong description.
North Korea is a concern to everyone because it is becoming potentially dangerous to anyone (a much scarier problem that Iraq was, I would say). But I don't think that the Chinese are taking anything other than the hard logical line; they still repatriate North Korean refugees for example, and you can imagine how they are going to be treated when they get back home. If North Korea were aligning itself against the US only, then China would probably be happy to watch, but as the paranoic lunacy of Kim Jong Il threatens everyone, they won't be that sorry to see him go, as long as (as the article's author points out) China ends up more powerful in the region than they were before (or at least as powerful).
IMO, The Alliance between China and North Korea pretty much ended when Mao died. The fact that they still consider N.Korea a Comrade in the Communist sysyem is just for show, like an antique vase. Like "hey were still communists
North Korea is more like Stalinisn than any sort of normal communism, though. I think that China quite likes having this buffer between the US's client state South Korea, and itself, not to mention that anything that irritates the US that China has some limited control over is probably a good thing for China.
I don't think that China really has alliances (in the sense that you can place at least some trust in them) with other countries, it has marraiges of convenience (obviously, all alliances are pretty much like this, but I think that with China they are the arch-politicians, and extremely capable as regards looking to the distant long term, with absolutely no loyalty to other countries).
"with absolutely no loyalty to other countries"
Seems to have worked fairly well in some respects for them for quite a number of centuries.
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