Skip to comments.China gets tougher with North Korea
Posted on 04/08/2003 11:19:46 AM PDT by Enemy Of The State
China gets tougher with North Korea
By Antoaneta Bezlova
BEIJING - China's newfound interest in urging Pyongyang to go to the multilateral negotiating table reflects its growing security concerns about possible US recklessness in handling the North Korean nuclear crisis, and alarm over military resurgence from neighboring Japan.
China has obviously grown irritated with its longtime communist ally.
This year, North Korea became the first country to pull out of the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty. It kicked out the International Atomic Energy Agency inspectors and shut down United Nations (UN) surveillance cameras at its Yongbyon nuclear facilities, which are capable of producing plutonium for nuclear weapons.
If North Korea declares itself a nuclear power - it admitted to having a secret nuclear weapons enrichment program in October - China is worried that threat in the region could then lead to a military arms race, possibly resulting in the nuclearization of Japan, South Korea and Taiwan, all of which are allies of the United States. Beijing considers Taiwan a renegade province.
Already, Beijing is fretting over growing public debate in Japan on how to upgrade its self-defense forces to suit the country's pacifist constitution.
China is also genuinely concerned that after the bombs stop falling in Baghdad, Washington will turn its attention toward North Korea, which US President George W Bush has included in his "axis of evil" along with Iraq and Iran.
A spokesman for North Korea's Foreign Ministry said on Sunday: "The United States is seriously mistaken if it thinks the DPRK [Democratic People's Republic of Korea - North Korea's name] will accept the demand for disarming while watching one of the three countries the US listed as part of an 'axis of evil' already subject to barbarous military attack."
Among Beijing's many fears is the possibility that Pyongyang's belligerent behavior might lead to US military moves against the Yongbyon nuclear reactor - even though Washington continues to claim that Iraq is not North Korea, and that each situation requires a unique solution.
The Bush administration has refused Pyongyang's demand for bilateral talks, which it argued would reward North Korea for its nuclear brinkmanship. Pyongyang, for its part, has rejected a multilateral forum, which Washington says would reflect the fact that the crisis is as much a regional issue as a bilateral one.
As the UN Security Council is scheduled to meet on Wednesday for an initial round of discussions on the North Korean issue, Pyongyang insisted on the weekend that any action taken by the council would be ignored by the regime.
Drawing parallels between the Iraq situation and its own, the Foreign Ministry spokesman in Pyongyang, whom the state-run Korean Central News Agency did not name, said: "The UNSC [United Nations Security Council] handling of the nuclear issue on the peninsula itself is precisely a prelude to war. The UNSC's discussion of the Iraqi issue was misused by the US as an excuse for war."
The UN Security Council has the power to punish nations for violating international anti-proliferation treaties. For example, it could impose economic sanctions on Pyongyang. But North Korea has previously warned that any sanctions imposed by the United Nations would be considered a "declaration of war".
Fearing that any UN sanctions might further isolate the Pyongyang regime and push the peninsula to the brink of war, China has until now resisted a council meeting. Last week, however, the Chinese ambassador to the United Nations said Beijing had agreed to hold initial consultations on the issue.
"We hope that we could have good coordination so hopefully we could accomplish something," Chinese Ambassador Wang Yingfan said.
While Beijing may stick to its longtime opposition to economic sanctions, indications are emerging that China is also stepping up pressure on North Korea. Australian Foreign Minister Alexander Downer said last week that China was now making a substantial effort to persuade North Korea to accept a US demand for multi-nation regional talks.
Speaking from Washington, where he met Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney during a two-day visit, Downer provided a rare hint of behind-the-scenes diplomatic negotiations between major players on the issue in order to find a suitable security framework.
"There does seem to be now a clear sign that China is making a substantial effort to persuade the North Koreans, first of all to engage in multilateral dialogue and secondly to exercise a greater degree of restraint," Downer said.
A series of developments over the past few weeks indicate that Beijing is trying to build pressure on Pyongyang to stop the escalation of nuclear tension on the Korean Peninsula and seriously engage in dialogue.
According to diplomatic sources, Chinese officials, including Vice Foreign Minister Wang Yi, have been holding meetings with North Korean counterparts, trying to persuade Pyongyang in earnest to stop provoking the United States.
The message emphasized is that if Pyongyang did not curtail its provocative behavior, China might be forced to drop its longstanding opposition to sanctions if North Korea's nuclear development program formally comes to the UN Security Council.
While the threat of sanctions was only hinted at, Beijing made a point of its seriousness by cutting off oil supplies to North Korean for three days last month.
Diplomats say the pipeline from the Daqing oilfields in northeastern China to North Korea was temporarily shut down in early March shortly after Pyongyang test-fired a missile into waters between the Korean Peninsula and Japan.
Such punishment on Beijing's side has been long urged by Washington, and China has been increasingly criticized for continuing oil and food supplies despite then-president Jiang Zemin's discussions with Bush last year.
China is North Korea's main source of fuel, exporting an estimated 1 million tonnes of oil each year to Pyongyang. Any halt in supplies would be a severe blow to North Korea, where energy and food shortages have left the population on the brink of a humanitarian disaster.
Beijing cited "technical" problems for the oil cutoff, but it also served as a warning to Pyongyang in destabilizing regional security.
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Just like the Muslim terrorists, the only thing Communists respond to is force. Japan, Taiwan, and South Korea are teaming up to contain North Korea and by extension, the Chicoms. Combined with a growing threat from India, China finds itself boxed in despite their (and the Clinton's) best laid plans.
Sounds like China has a dawning realization of how many chips are on the table.
There is a method to our madness.
The Bush strategery of doing nothing and allowing the reality to sink in to NK's neighbors is working. China expected Bush to jump through hoops and offer NK new goodies. Instead they face the prospect of Japan re-arming, and Japan, SK, and Taiwan being armed with ABMs and possibly nukes in response. Oops.
The Chinese are still hoping that we will come around and pay the North Koreans off, if nothing else because they think we don't have the stomach to fight the kind of war that Korea would produce. The North Koreans themselves don't have a choice. If we don't pay them off with food and energy, they're done for. They're cornered and desperate, and betting everything on us cutting a deal to avoid a bloodbath.
Translation: We CAN and WILL kick your @$$, with or without nukes (regular or extra crispy).
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