[GLOBAL EYE]China holds power over NorthSince Pyeongyang declared its possession of nuclear weapons through a statement issued by the foreign ministry, the international community has been focused on interpreting the intention behind it. Let’s review some information that could help us understand the background of Pyeongyang’s acknowledgment of a nuclear arsenal.
According to a high-ranking security official, North Korean leader Kim Jong-il sends New Year’s greetings to each of the nation’s foreign legations every year. Sources say that the latest 2005 New Year’s greeting specifically mentions the National Defense Commission chairman’s order to reinforce diplomatic ties with Russia, Southeast Asia and the European Union this year. Meanwhile, the letter has no mention of China, the closest ally of North Korea. Why was China excluded from the list of countries that Pyeongyang would work to strengthen ties with?
Some experts say that the relationship between Pyeongyang and Beijing has encountered new friction. In fact, intelligence analysts have been spotting specific signs suggesting that the relationship between China and North Korea has not been so smooth for a while.
Some North Korean generals reportedly attempted and failed a pro-Beijing coup, which consequently led to a series of large-scale purges. Beijing and Washington are rumored to be negotiating a deal over issues related to North Korea and Taiwan, and some international observers suspect that Washington might have agreed to the establishment of a pro-Chinese government in the North after the collapse of the Kim Jong-il regime. While the rumors and speculation are not entirely credible and interrelated, they might be pieces of the same puzzle.
Of course, each analyst can interpret the uncomfortable air between Pyeongyang and Beijing differently. However, it is clear that the tension between North Korea and China is increasing as China’s influence over the North rises, and China gets increasing recognition from the world. Pyeongyang’s continued dependence on Beijing is unfavorable to the North. With the increased influence, China can boast its capability as the regional leader in the international community and even attempt an international-level deal with the United States and other neighbors with interests involved in the issue.
However, if Pyeongyang does not follow Beijing’s direction, and China’s influence on North Korea is not consistently maintained, Beijing’s position would be weakened. In case China gives up its diplomatic principle of peaceful resolution of the nuclear crisis and agrees to military sanctions or pressure, it would lead to tremendous diplomatic losses and consequences for China.
Moreover, China cannot but consider the possibility of Russia’s increased influence over North Korea, because Russia is another regional and global power, although much of its clout is lost. In fact, several examples of partnership between North Korea and Russia indicate that Pyeongyang is reviving the equidistant diplomacy with China and Russia that it relied on during the Cold War era as Moscow completes the overhaul of its system.
However, we should not be complacent with an analysis that the friction between Pyeongyang and Beijing will do us good. The most important things are how to save the faces of both Pyeongyang and Washington, bring them to the negotiation table, come up with a peaceful solution, end the nuclear crisis and bring peace and stability to the Korean Peninsula.
Here, the “Russian card” is again in the spotlight. Russia has invited Kim Jong-il to its Victory Day celebration on May 9. The heads of the six nations involved in the nuclear talks will be in Moscow at the same time. Therefore, it is worthwhile to try to bring about a six-nation summit in Moscow.
If all six leaders cannot get together, the highest-ranking North Korean official can contact the leaders and officials of each partner and provide a turning point for a breakthrough. Seoul should also use the meeting as a turning point.
* The writer is an editorial writer of the JoongAng Ilbo.
by Kim Seok-hwan