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China needs new thinking on Korean Peninsular crisis?

12:18, December 07, 2010

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By Li Hongmei

Now that the United States, South Korea and Japan all refused China's invitation to hold emergency six-party talks in Beijing after the North Korea's deadly bombardment of the Yeonpyeong island, which devastatingly frayed the already brittle nerves on the Korean Peninsula, Washington would like to host high-level talks on Monday with its Asian allies to forge a strategy for dealing with a volatile nuclear-armed North Korea amid the ongoing largest-ever US-Japan war games in waters off the tense Korean Peninsula and ensuing the just concluded US-South Korea show of military force in the Yellow Sea.

The allied muscle-flexing and US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton's planned talks with foreign ministers Kim Sung-hwan of South Korea and Seiji Maehara of Japan intend to single out China, which has been all these days accused of taking a soft approach to reining in Pyongyang by the three military allies.

South Korean media even in one voice blame China for offering unprincipled protection to the "belligerent" North Korea, and Japan also calls on China to step up on the defiant country. The U.S. would never miss any chance to finger point China. Its Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Navy Admiral Mike Mullen was quoted as saying when receiving a CNN interview, "China's leadership has more influence in Pyongyang than any other country." He thereby urged China's leaders to take more tough actions to end what he calls North Korea's "provocative" and "reckless" behavior.

The U.S. and its allies are willing to believe that under the mounting international pressure, Beijing will soon face off with its friend, even if they can be as close as brothers. If so, they would readily garner as much of the coveted strategic interests in the region as they expect, assuming, say, China openly breaks with Pyongyang and leaves the "defiant' country isolated and vulnerable.

That also explains why the U.S. selectively hypes the parts aiming to drive a wedge between Beijing and Pyongyang in the notorious WikiLeaks dump of classified diplomatic cables, which released that a senior Chinese diplomat once described Pyongyang's bad-boy behavior as that of a "spoiled child" acting up to grab Washington's attention. Another dispatch quoted the official as saying, "We may not like (North Korea but) … they are a neighbor." And that was all prior to North Korea's recent belligerent moves—"torpedoing a South Korean warship", which the North denied, and shelling a border island—which humiliated Chinese efforts to negotiate a solution to the nuke crisis----as goes the explanation oft-quoted these days by the U.S.-led anti-NKorea campaign.

In actuality, even the US officials are divided over China's leverage on N Korea, some of them raise doubts on whether North Korea is really listening to Beijing, and some view the relations between China and North Korea totally different from that of US and its South ally. South Korea acts as just a piece on the U.S. geopolitical chessboard, while North Korea has been trying desperately to win enough of the respect from China as an equal. It might accept the Chinese aids, but never allows China to feel sorry for it. N Korea is and will be by no means submissive as its rival south.

For this, they suppose that although the U.S. and its regional allies, South Korea and Japan, have urged China to press North Korea harder, China will still step gingerly.

"The Chinese government is doing its fair share. What else can you do? Punch on the table or shout at North Korea? You would make the whole thing worse," remarked Wang Dong, a professor of international relations at Peking University. "If we behave like how the U.S. behaves, you would push North Korea into a corner."

China has launched a flurry of efforts aimed at easing tensions between North and South Korea urging calm but avoiding taking sides and, trying to avert a spiraling standoff between its two neighbors, since the rekindled flames caused by the artillery exchanges Nov,.23.

Viewed by the outside observers, China is currently caught in a dilemma when trying to have regard for both sides, and perhaps, it is just impossible to take measures satisfactory in both respects. North Korea is a time-honored friend with blood-coagulated ties, while the U.S. and South Korea are both China's increasingly important strategic and trade partners.

In response, the famous Chinese scholar Li Xiguang, who is a professor at Tsinghua University, boldly pointed out that China needs to adopt a new thinking when handling Korean issues.

"From the strategic vantage-point of national security, North Korea is one of China's most important neighbors," said Prof. Li.

"China must preserve a state of peace between the North and South of the Korean peninsula, and an independent North Korea that can serve as a buffer between China and U.S. forces." He was cited as saying when receiving an interview recently.

Li believes that China's new thinking also embraces playing an active role in settling Korean Peninsula crisis. China should prompt North Korea to convert from a "nuclear-crisis state" to a "peaceful developing country", thus effectively preventing the U.S., Japan and South Korea from spreading the Peninsula crisis across the region and extending to the Chinese doorsteps, and meanwhile, China should support and encourage North Korea to launch economic reforms to shake off poverty soon.

Further, China needs to let the world know---any move to pour fuel onto the flames on the Korean Peninsular will be taken as a provocation to China.

The articles in this column represent the author's views only. They do not represent opinions of People's Daily or People's Daily Online.

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About this column

Li Hongmei, editor and columnist of PD Online.


Li HongLi Hong

After 19 years working for China Daily and its website, Li Hong moved to english.people.com.cn in March 2009.

Li has been a reporter and column writer, mainly on China's economy and politics.

He was graduated from Beijing Foreign Studies University, and once studied in University of Hawaii and the Poynter Institute in Florida.

Dai MinJohn
Dai Min

John Milligan-Whyte and Dai Min, the executive producers and co-hosts of the Collaboration of Civilizations television series adapted by the eight books they wrote in the America-China Partnership Book Series published in English and Mandarin in 2009-2010 that created the "New School of America-China Relations." They founded the America-China Partnership Foundation and Forum in 2008 and the Center for American-China Partnership in 2005, which was recognized in 2009 as "the first American think tank to combine and integrate American and Chinese perspectives providing a complete answer for America and China's success in the 21st century."