[Viewpoint] Protecting the lips, while losing face

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[Viewpoint] Protecting the lips, while losing face

The UN effort to impose sanctions on North Korea is facing an obstacle. China has refused in practice to implement Security Council Resolution 1874, which was adopted unanimously on June 12, calling for tighter sanctions against North Korea by blocking funding for nuclear, missile and proliferation activities, widening the ban on arms imports and exports and calling on member states to inspect and destroy all banned cargo to and from the country.

This takes place against the backdrop of China s military suppression of the Uighur protesters in Xinjiang. The number of casualties is at least 150, and Chinese President Hu Jintao returned home early from the G8 meeting in Italy to deal with the situation in Xinjiang. The Chinese dispatched military contingents to Urumqi and other prefectures in Xinjiang, arrested Uighur separatists en masse and proclaimed severe punishments for those who encouraged the rallies.

The No. 1 mastermind targeted by Chinese public security is Rabiya Kadeer, the president of the World Uighur Congress. She is in exile in the United States. She was freed in 2005 from imprisonment in China after serving eight years for making public statements at Uighur protest rallies that broke out in 1997. I wonder whether Beijing is going to make her into the Dalai Lama of Xinjiang.

As is widely known, China crushed the Tibetan Buddhist monks and protesters who staged sit-ins at Buddhist monasteries and rallies on the streets of Lhasa by dispatching Chinese troops to Tibet last year. The number of casualties was over 130. As was shown in both cases, China is ready to take swift and ruthless action against any separatist move or demand for independence that may arise in its five autonomous regions. Yet Beijing treats its satellite communist states, such as North Korea, gently, even refusing to impose sanctions unanimously adopted by the Security Council, on which China sits as one of five permanent members.

This reflects the traditional view that China, as a suzerain state, maintained in the old days: If you lose your lips, your teeth will be exposed to the cold. So as not to endanger the security and prosperity of the mainland, internally, China blocks any separatist move or demand for independence that may arise in frontier districts and, externally, maintains peace and stability with neighboring countries by providing necessary support to them.

This selfish Chinese foreign policy is also a remnant of the Cold War era. Back then, China, as a leading power in the Communist bloc, regularly staged events to show off its anti-imperialist struggle against capitalist countries, while seeking peaceful coexistence with Communist countries (with the notable exception of the Soviet Union).

After China took the road to reform and economic opening, the objectives of its new foreign policy have shifted to creating an international environment favorable to modernization efforts and securing international status corresponding to its expanded national power.

To do this, China claims to pursue a foreign policy of maintaining independence, world peace, friendly relations and cooperation with all countries.

What then has made China hesitate to implement UN sanctions against North Korea? Although they were drawn up in 1954 during the first Indochina conflict, China still honors the Five Principles of Peaceful Coexistence. They are: respect for other nations territorial integrity and sovereignty, mutual non-aggression, non-interference in other nations internal affairs, equality and mutual benefit and peaceful co-existence. China finds them useful in keeping peace and stability with neighboring countries that is, in keeping its lips intact.

In the case of North Korea, there is an additional reason for Beijing to be generous to Pyongyang. China does not want the sudden collapse of the North Korean regime because it would be harmful to China s modernization and economic prosperity.

China may reject any international expression of sympathy to Uighur separatists as intervention in its internal affairs. In the international community, however, many are beginning to believe that the residents of Tibet and the Uighurs should be allowed the freedom to express their rights for autonomy, separation and independence from China. Many more believe that China, which has the greatest leverage over the Kim Jong-il regime, has to play a leading role in the implementation of the Security Council resolution and force North Korea to abandon its nuclear delusions.

If China betrays the wishes of the world community, the rest of the world will reckon that Beijing has not yet shed the remnants of the Cold War era, suppressing demands for democracy at home and playing the role of a guardian for neighboring communist countries.

China has constantly changed its foreign policy guidelines in accordance with changing international circumstances. In line with rapid economic growth in recent years, Beijing has tried to become a great power once again. It is proper for China, the world s largest developing country, to play a bigger role in the international community. It is also proper that China, a permanent member of the UN Security Council, should not undermine the dignity and the authority of the council and its resolutions.

If China prefers a nuclear-armed North Korea to a collapsing North Korea because of its own economic interests, China will face criticism from the international community and will ultimately be surrounded by a nuclear-armed Japan, South Korea and Taiwan.

Chinese leadership should face up to reality. The Kim Jong-il regime has fewer than two years of life left in it. It would be better for Beijing to persuade North Korea to return to the six-party talks and prepare for a post-Kim Jong-il era in close consultation with other participants in those talks.


*The writer is a visiting professor of media studies at Myongji University.

by Park Sung-soo


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