[Viewpoint] China must see Seoul’s perspective

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[Viewpoint] China must see Seoul’s perspective

The element of power inevitably gets involved in diplomatic relations with China, a senior government official said, suggesting the frustration that Seoul faces in confronting the Chinese wall over the Cheonan sinking. The government, after the joint investigation team released physical evidence that overwhelmingly pinned North Korea as the culprit for firing the torpedo against the Cheonan, is considering taking the case to the United Nations Security Council.

The official explained China treats the North Korean involvement in the Cheonan sinking differently from the nuclear threat. China does not oppose punitive actions against North Korea’s nuclear ambition as long as it does not lead to the North’s collapse since China views the nuclear issue as affecting its national interest.

For example, when North Korea carried out its second underground nuclear test in May 2009, China voted in favor of the UN Security Council Resolution 1874 imposing heavier sanctions.

But in the Cheonan case, China considers it an inter-Korean matter. Therefore, Beijing has been urging Seoul to exercise restraint and calm and to carry out a scientific and objective investigation.

But now that it has become clear that the Cheonan sank from a torpedo attack by North Korea, Pyongyang must answer not only to South Korea but also the entire international community.

Our diplomatic test on the Cheonan case starts from here. The first test is to find a way to win over China. China may not want to push North Korea against the wall, but it won’t be able to continue to defend Pyongyang when all other major countries uphold the findings from the joint investigation.

China may be tempted to test its clout as an emerging superpower, backed by its permanent seat on the UN Security Council and as the second largest economy in the world. But it may have to risk damaging its reputation in the international community if it continues to defend a rogue state threatening regional security and peace through military aggression.

Some in the government voice skepticism about seeking Security Council measures to punish North Korea. But such an action may end up reinforcing China’s clout in affecting developments on the Korean Peninsula while bringing little progress in our favor.

China’s intervention in Korean affairs is already too excessive. Critics argue that seeking Security Council action would amount to begging for China’s vote of confidence in our claims that North Korea attacked our warship and should be punished.

Our concerns don’t end here. If inter-Korean ties are severed and North Korea’s isolation from the global community is prolonged - with all of its channels to the outside world, including the United States, cut off - the country’s reliance on China will grow greater. Its economy will consequently fall under China’s sway and Pyongyang will have little room to resist China in maintaining its own sovereignty.

Are we entirely hopeless against China? We still have the option of mobilizing all diplomatic channels to make Beijing understand that North Korea’s bold military provocation is a threat as dangerous as nuclear weapons in undermining China’s security as well as that of the Korean Peninsula.

Beijing must be outraged by North Korean leader Kim Jong-il’s false claim to Chinese President Hu Jintao during their summit this year that North Korea had no connection with the Cheonan sinking.

China’s reasons and strategy to back North Korea are weak. It is not too late for China to realize the consequences of North Korea’s attack in the Yellow Sea, such as the increased ROK-U.S. joint naval exercises near its coast. China’s ambition to emerge as a formidable counterpoint to America’s global leadership will also be undermined by defending a rogue nation amid the chorus of international condemnation.

We have learned two important lessons from the Cheonan tragedy: the alliance with the U.S. remains firm and deeply rooted while that with China had been imaginary. We have come to see the real face of China. China claims it is building power in peaceful ways. But when its national interests are involved, it too often neglects the meaning of peace.

We need to address China with a farsighted perspective in the wake of the Cheonan crisis. But we have not yet developed close connection with Chinese leaders. The Chinese do not like taking things hurriedly. So we must take it one step at a time with the Chinese and expand nongovernmental rapport with the people there.

Bilateral exchanges among scholars, companies and even young netizens would expand our contacts with China. Now we must stop exhaustive disputes with the Chinese over minor historical details for the benefit of the greater interest of our nation.

*The writer is a senior columnist of the JoongAng Ilbo.
Translation by the JoongAng Daily staff.

by Kim Young-hie
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