By Li Hongmei People's Daily Online
Sure enough, North Korea has captured as much of the global attention as it wished, and meanwhile, frayed nerves of the entire world since its nuclear test May 25. The widely condemned test has also dramatically ratcheted up the regional tension and afflicted the Chinese border regions, ironically , as the secretive country is celebrating the 'Friendship Year' and the upcoming 60th anniversary of diplomatic relations with its 'brotherly neighbor'--China.
Obviously, the recent nuke show staged by N Korea puts China in a dilemma—China will have to face the twin pressures both from the international community and from within its border, given that N Korea acts in a total defiance of the U.N. resolutions, disregarding the repeated international calls made by the international community to dismantle its nuclear facilities, and brushing off the sole purpose for 'a nuclear-free Korean Peninsular' pursued by the Six-Party Talks, in which China acts as a mediator, but already stalled when the North walked away from the negotiation table after having been annoyed by the U.N. announcement to exert upon it punitive measures for a self-claimed satellite launch in April.
Back at home, following its underground blast, the majority of the Chinese public assumes there is a possibility that the traditional brotherhood between the two countries might be spoiled, as shown in a recent online survey, which also indicated there are 66 percent of the respondents saying they are more averse to the country than before. After all, the distance of 150 kilometers between the site of nuclear test and China's northeast regions is so short that people living in the neighborhood could not help but express their profound consternation that the underground water and the local ecological environment might be affected by the nuclear radiation.
Some Chinese scholars also echoed the assumption that N Korea's nuke test is nothing but a peril to China, saying the test was aimed at the U.S., but in fact, it was aimed at neighboring countries. And analysts abroad mostly agreed it was high time for Beijing to rein in Pyongyang, now that Beijing has long been its ally and supplier of food and energy, and more important, Beijing has got credit for its unrelenting efforts to achieve the breakthrough while playing host to the nuclear talks.
In response to the frequent provocations from North, the U.N. Security Council is currently preparing plans for new sanctions; the frightened South Korea, under the hawkish president Lee Myung-bak, joined PSI (Proliferation Security Initiative); the angry Japan went on heightened alert and threatened to take 'self-defense' measures, and the U.S. is suffering a big headache and appears at a loss at the time as to what to do with the defiant North bent on possessing nuclear arsenals. When the world is shifting its attention to Beijing for some leadership in a vain hope to wield some leverage over the bellicose North, China seems not to be so hastened to make a response, as expected, pressuring Pyongyang to give up its nuclear ambitions, although the Chinese government has distinctly stated its resolute opposition to North Korea mastering nuclear weapons.
Since 1950s, China has consistently adhered to a foreign policy of non-interference in other country's internal affairs under the 'Five Principles of Peaceful Co-existence'. But the world situation has already changed and China has emerged as a regional, if not global power, which has been imposed upon a higher international expectation to provide leaderships.
That said, China will have to look beyond the ongoing policies toward the North. Even viewed from a practical perspective—the mounting nuclear tension would possibly force open the flood gate of refugee fleeing across the Yalu River into the Chinese territory, over-burdening the currently downward economy and threatening the social stability--, China will have to do its utmost to deter the already fragile regional security from completely unraveling. If standing at a strategic height, Beijing should have a sweeping glance of the regional security scenario, and take the initiative to push for the building of a firewall against nuclear proliferation in Asia.
As a responsible Asia giant, China will not shirk the responsibility of helping stave off a potential nuclear crisis. And in the final analysis, a nuclear-free Korean Peninsular is in the best interest of Beijing and its Asian neighbors. But China will also have to ponder at what point and in what way it can best play its role in dealing with the tough issue. At least, one thing is certain that this is a time for diplomacy, not a show of force. Perhaps, some countries would complain of China's 'lukewarm' reactions to the threat at its doorsteps. But at the moment, both hostile moves and military muscle-flexing could do nothing but further irritating the North and watering down what has been achieved so far in an effort to coax it back to the negotiation table.
It is presumed that the trouble-making North would not get so desperate as to launch a military attack as it warned to do, except when it is cornered. More over, what is paramount now to Mr. Kim Jong-II's package of concerns is trying to ensure his leadership and regime stays intact; and the last thing Kim intends to do may be to follow in the footsteps of Saddam Hussein. It is all smoke, but actually he has no cards to play. He threats in order to gain. It might not be absolutely true but at least not mistaken that, the best way to counter the North Korea's provocations must involve: the preparedness to invest more patience and pay more than a lip-service, in particular, a hat-in-hand stance from the other side of the Pacific.