[Viewpoint] Chinese ‘partnership’ a delusion

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[Viewpoint] Chinese ‘partnership’ a delusion

Chinese experts on Korean affairs got together at Peking University last June for closed-door discussions on North Korea following its second nuclear test in May. Most of the speakers defended North Korea and condemned the United States for seeking sanctions, one participant in the forum reported later.

Prof. Zuo Dapei of the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences criticized the United States for forcing China into the villain’s role of chastising Pyongyang, and said its ultimate purpose was to create a pro-American regime in North Korea. “There are some parties calling for penalizing North Korea [for defying the international community with its detonation of a nuclear device], but they have fallen into America’s trap.”

Prof. Zhang Hongliang of the Central University of the Nationalities went further, saying North Korea’s nuclear development would bring more good than harm for China.

The chairperson, Prof. Xu Liang of the Beijing Foreign Language University, in summing up the discussions, warned against falling prey to arguments that North Korea’s nuclear test could threaten China as well. He said China should oppose any sanctions against North Korea, strengthen ties with Pyongyang and resist any attempts to undermine the current regime. In his conclusion, he said China should support North Korea’s resistance to Western forces, including its arming itself with nuclear weapons, which would benefit China as well as strengthening regional security.

South Koreans were offended this week by China’s warm hospitality for visiting North Korean leader Kim Jong-il. Some say President Lee Myung-bak was insulted by China. But China’s partiality toward North Korea should be no surprise, as the seminar of Chinese intellectuals proves. That is the real face of China. We are the ones who were deluded into thinking that China is some kind of impartial judge. We chose to see what we wanted to see and were so swept up by the rhetoric of “strategic partnership” that we forgot our neighbor’s true nature.

A month after the forum in Beijing, the Chinese Communist Party decided to deal with North Korean affairs and the nuclear problem as two separate issues. The strategy was to seek resolution of the nuclear problem through a multilateral platform while the country separately continued with aid and investment to North Korea regardless of international sanctions. In September, the two countries held a ceremony commemorating the 60th anniversary of diplomatic normalization, and in October, Prime Minister Wen Jiabao made a state visit to Pyongyang to reaffirm their “blood relations.” Senior officials from the two countries have since exchanged visits and signed various treaties to bolster bilateral ties.

Kim’s latest return visit to Beijing is the culmination of a year of diplomatic endeavors. How could the South Korean government not see the two countries’ plan of action?

There are, of course, voices in Beijing calling for a tougher stance against North Korea. The so-called “international” set urges the government in Beijing to embrace the U.S.-led global order and realign North Korean strategy based on such an approach. They supported UN Security Council Resolution 1718 authorizing sanctions against North Korea following its first nuclear test in 2006, and urged Beijing to join international efforts to constrain the weapons trade by inspecting North Korean shipments. But those voices were drowned out by conservative advocates for North Korea following its second nuclear test in May last year. The Beijing seminar was a testimony to the prevalent pro-Pyongyang attitude.

China is showing signs of ever-growing confidence and self-importance as it rapidly gains economic prosperity and clout in world affairs. Under the ancient “Zhonghwa” ideology calling for an East Asian order led by China, the Korean Peninsula should be under its influence. The region is considered within its jurisdiction, requiring guidance and aid, and therefore outside forces like the United States cannot be allowed to exercise power on that soil. To China, North Korea is naturally a favorite son compared to South Korea, an American ally. North Korea is also useful to China as a point of political leverage against the United States.

A dragon has awakened after a long sleep and is starting to stretch its neck. A new wave is expected to sweep across the region. The explosion and sinking of a naval warship in the Yellow Sea may be a curtain-raiser. The Cheonan crisis and Kim Jong-il’s visit to China serve as a wake-up call for South Koreans who have been oblivious and deluded about the realities in North Korea and China. We don’t need to be upset about China’s attitude. We just have to face the music and act accordingly from now on. It’s high time we had more sense.

*Translation by the JoongAng Daily staff.
The writer is chief editorial writer of the JoongAng Ilbo.

By Heo Nam-chin
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