Diplomacy option in questionAfter North Korean leader Kim Jong-il’s five-day visit to China, South Korea complained about the timing of the trip. China, after all, invited Kim to the country at an extremely sensitive time, as South Koreans are enraged by the possibility that North Korea was behind the sinking of a naval corvette in waters near the maritime border. China snapped back that the visit was a matter of internal affairs.
The incident highlights the relatively weak status of economic-based Sino-South Korean relations when up against the special brotherhood between China and North Korea.
Kim’s visit is a wake-up call, alerting us to the apparent fact that our “strategic partnership” with China is nothing but an illusion.
The solutions to the Cheonan conundrum and the six-party talks have become more complicated due to Kim’s visit. The sinking of one of our naval warships during a routine patrol has already been put to the diplomatic test.
China’s foreign ministry spokesman advocated for North Korea, saying that the media are behind speculation of the country’s involvement. He may have not been able to say otherwise, as the investigation into the cause of the sinking is ongoing. But it is obvious that we cannot expect China’s support in diplomatic efforts. It won’t penalize North Korea unless we present irrefutable evidence of its involvement. During Kim’s visit to China, he reportedly told Chinese President Hu Jintao that his country will work with China to create favorable terms to revive six-party talks on denuclearizing the Korean Peninsula.
His words cannot be seen as an assurance that North Korea will immediately return to the six-party platform. But if the talks - in a stalemate since North Korea walked out a year ago - do reopen, there will likely be an escalation of tensions between the North Korea-China side and the South Korea-U.S. side.
The United States is behind us on the idea that the Cheonan crisis must be solved before denuclearization talks resume. But if the joint civilian and military investigation fails to provide a smoking gun to corner North Korea within the month, Washington may think differently. The Cheonan crisis, it might reason, is a regional issue, while dismantling North Korea is part of a global campaign to free the world of a nuclear threat. So we may have to prepare ourselves for a change in Washington’s position.
The importance of diplomacy has been underscored by Kim’s visit to China. But we must take a closer look at the diplomatic capacity of the nations involved. In effect, we should start a serious conversation about whether the government has the ability to crack the Cheonan crisis through diplomacy.