China must explain North aid

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China must explain North aid

China’s latest show of generosity in economic aid to North Korea during Prime Minister Wen Jiabao’s trip to Pyongyang raises concern as it could undermine international efforts to pressure North Korea to abandon its nuclear weapons program. Moreover, China’s pledge of financial aid and economic cooperation may breach the United Nations Security Council Resolution 1874 banning any assistance to the North except for humanitarian purposes. If true, the problem is pretty serious. It means China - a permanent Security Council member - has turned non-compliant with a UN decision to impose sanctions on the North for its second nuclear test in May. Beijing could also sabotage the two-track strategy of pressure and dialogue agreed to by the six-party nations to push North Korea towards nuclear disarmament.

The foreign ministry said the Chinese government has officially relayed details of Wen’s visit to North Korea through diplomatic channels. Beijing reportedly confirmed that it supports the Security Council resolution. Chinese and North Korean media reported that Wen has signed a series of agreements on economic exchange and cooperation, but no details have been released. They may include large amounts of food and energy aid as in the past. A small amount of food and drugs may not be a problem, but a large quantity would be in violation of the Security Council resolution.

China is in the best position to use leverage on the North. Without its involvement, any restrictive move against North Korea will be fruitless. China’s endorsement in the Security Council’s decision to impose sanctions was therefore critical and the punitive action proved effective mainly because China was a part of it. Therefore, regardless of the size and nature of its aid, China’s offer of assistance appears untimely and inappropriate.

Its rewards are particularly incomprehensible considering North Korean leader Kim Jong-il was equivocal about returning to the six-party talks. If China pledged huge support without coordinating it first with other members of the six-party nations, we may seriously have to question its commitment to denuclearizing the Korean Peninsula. We await straight answers in the upcoming summit talks in Beijing.

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