[VIEWPOINT]China, the U.S. and Korea

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[VIEWPOINT]China, the U.S. and Korea

I received a question from Chinese scholars: “We see Taiwan’s independence as more of a threat than the North Korean nuclear problem to the peace and stability of Northeast Asia in the future. What do think of this?”
This came up during a question-and-answer session after I had spoken on “China-United States relations and the North Korean nuclear issue” at the invitation of the Chinese Academy of Social Science in Beijing.
At a juncture when China and the United States mutually need close cooperation regarding current issues, we should take a careful look at how China-U.S. relations would affect security on the Korean Peninsula.
There is a growing possibility that Taiwan will declare independence. Some scenarios predict that the declaration will be made soon, capitalizing on the hosting of the Beijing Olympics in 2008. China proclaims that it would never sit idle watching this happen, and would not hesitate to take any necessary military action.
On April 21, James Kelly, U.S. Assistant Secretary of State, made a testimony on the overview of U.S. policy toward Taiwan in a hearing at the Committee on International Relations of the House of Representatives. This could be a new interpretation of the “Taiwan Relations Act.”
First, Mr. Kelly emphasized that the fundamental element of the Taiwan Relations Act was the stability of Taiwan. This could be a warning against Taiwan’s president, Chen Shui-bian, who shows signs of moving toward independence.
Second, he pointed out that the U.S. government should face the possibility of China’s use of military force against Taiwan. He asserted that the United States opposed Taiwan’s unilateral attempt to change the status quo, and that regarding China’s threat to use military action as an empty threat would be irresponsible behavior. This shows a big difference from the early attitude of the Bush administration, that it would take any action to defend Taiwan.
This change in the U.S. attitude toward Taiwan is in the same context as that in which China displayed its active diplomatic power in the six-way talks to resolve the North Korean nuclear problem peacefully. Through visits of many high-ranking officials, including Jiang Zemin, Hu Jintao, and Wen Jiabao, to the United States, China confirmed to its satisfaction that the United States opposes Taiwan’s independence, while China is reportedly being asked to use its influence on the North Korean nuclear issue in the place of the United States.
In China, some people view that the United States does not truly intend to resolve the nuclear problem. They think that having the problem unresolved will fit the interests of the United States. This viewpoint is based on the perception that the United States wants to keep its army stationed in Northeast Asia, the U.S. munitions industry wants to increase its arms sales and the United States does not want any failure in its plans, including those for a missile defense system.
China voluntarily undertook a constructive role in settling the nuclear issue for fear that North Korea’s possession of nuclear weapon would undermine peace in Northeast Asia. This move underlies China’s position that it expects the United States to play a role in solving the Taiwan issue.
Attention has been recently drawn to the change of perception among Korean politicians and the general public, that they now consider China to be of greater importance than the United States. It was reported that a survey conducted by the ruling Our Open Party showed that 63 percent of 130 representatives-elect answered that “priority should be given to China.”
Another poll also showed that more than 80 percent of the public agreed with this conclusion. People seem to recognize that the status and role of the United States in Northeast Asia has been reduced and that China has greater influence than the United States in solving the North Korean nuclear problem or in improving North-South Korean relations.
The United States is trying to solve the nuclear problem by persuading China. China is trying to solve the problem of Taiwan’s independence by persuading the United States. For peace and stability in Northeast Asia, both countries are making efforts to achieve common goals. The geopolitical location of the Korean Peninsula, surrounded by strong powers, teaches us a historical lesson that our interests can be hurt in the negotiations behind the scenes.
I hope the government will cast away any prejudice about the United States and China and display wisdom in undertaking practical diplomacy that could maximize our interests.

* The writer is a professor at the Graduate School of International Studies, Korea University. She is teaching at Peking University as a visiting professor. Translation by the JoongAng Daily staff.

by Ahn Yin-hay
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