[Viewpoint] The North keeps fooling China

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[Viewpoint] The North keeps fooling China

If North Korea was behind the recent sinking of the Navy warship Cheonan, it will be China, not South Korea, who was betrayed the most.

Just before the Cheonan’s sinking on March 26, the North had informed China that it wanted to hold peace talks with the United States.

China relayed the North’s wish to the United States, repeatedly asking Washington to accept Pyongyang’s demand.

North Korea, however, appears to have then killed 46 South Korean sailors in the Yellow Sea near China.

If it did, it will not be the first time that North Korea has baffled China by seeking peace with one hand while committing a terrorist act with the other.

In the autumn of 1983, North Korea, for the first time, told China that it wanted to sit down for three-way peace talks with South Korea and the United States, and asked Beijing to inform Washington of its position.

On Oct. 8 of that year, China delivered the North’s message to the United States, stressing that Washington and Beijing should cooperate to ease tension on the Korean Peninsula.

The next day, however, North Korea bombed the Aung San cemetery in Myanmar to assassinate visiting South Korean President Chun Doo Hwan.

Although Chun survived the attempt, 17 top South Korean officials were killed.

China’s leader Deng Xiaoping was infuriated by the North’s action.

For a few weeks after the terrorist attack, Deng refused to meet with any North Korean officials.

In a rare expression of its displeasure, China’s state media reported the Myanmar government’s criticisms of the North, rather than only printing the North’s denial, according to Don Oberdorfer in his book “The Two Koreas.”

Twenty-seven years later, China has apparently again been betrayed by the North’s double play.

If the North is proven to be responsible for the Cheonan’s sinking, the international community will believe that China’s response must be harsher than punitive actions it has taken in the past, such as refusing to meet with North Korean officials.

The abominable crime by the North, if proven, is serious, and the situation is very different than it was 27 years ago.

Today, it is undeniable that North Korea has become the model of a failed country.

On the other hand, South Korea has been China’s key partner for a long time.

Last year, trade between the South and China amounted to $141 billion, and 5.6 million people engaged in bilateral exchanges.

During the same period, the North-China trade stood at mere a $300 million and just a few thousand people visited each other.

The World Exposition 2010 in Shanghai, which opened last Friday, explicitly demonstrates the changed reality.

South Korea opened one of the most unique and beautiful pavilions at the festival, and President Lee Myung-bak flew to China for a summit with Chinese President Hu Jintao.

In contrast, North Korea, China’s blood ally, borrowed money from Beijing, and its pavilion is nothing more than a display of formality.

Also, instead of North Korean leader Kim Jong-il, the chairman of the Supreme People’s Assembly, Kim Yong-nam, attended the opening ceremony.

Yet China cannot treat the North lightly, because of North Korea’s geopolitical importance, which cannot be measured in economic terms.

China, following its successful hosting of the Olympics as well as the exposition, has become a global leader which must respect the rules of the international community - common sense and the rule of law.

If it continues to tolerate the North unconditionally, South Korea, Japan and the United States may put up fierce resistance, and the six-party nuclear talks may be delayed indefinitely.

That does not serve China’s interests.

South Korea has not yet jumped to the conclusion that the North was responsible for the Cheonan disaster and has conducted an objective investigation by inviting the neutral country of Sweden.

But if China turns a blind eye toward the results of the joint probe, South Korea and the international community will be disappointed at China’s leadership.

Engaging in such a gesture would fail to live up to the country’s size and newfound stature.

*Translation by the JoongAng Daily staff.
The writer is a deputy political news editor of the JoongAng Ilbo.

By Kang Chan-ho
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