Diplomats say China against UN sanctions

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Diplomats say China against UN sanctions

Even before North Korea was conclusively identified as the culprit behind the sinking of the South Korean Navy patrol corvette Cheonan, China had taken a stand against discussing the matter at the United Nations Security Council, diplomatic sources here said yesterday.

According to one source, Chinese diplomats based in Seoul have been telling diplomats from other countries that taking the Cheonan case to the Security Council was “not a good idea” because it could “upset” the North.

South Korea has not decided whether to raise the issue at the Security Council, though that has been mentioned as a possible countermeasure. But already, the South has engaged in diplomatic efforts seeking international help.

China is a crucial player in this picture. It is one of five permanent members on the Security Council with veto power. Any binding resolution at the Security Council requires a unanimous vote, and South Korea fears China - North Korea’s biggest ally and benefactor - may exercise its veto power.

And China has stopped short of condemning North Korea for the attack. Without commenting on the North’s actions, China’s Foreign Ministry called for “calm and restraint” Thursday and said it supports peace and stability in the region.

Experts believe China wants a stable North Korea because if its communist regime collapsed, Pyongyang could lose control of its nuclear arsenal and hundreds of thousands of North Koreans could flood into China seeking refugee status. Sanctions or other punitive measures would tip North Korea closer to the brink.

Another source said Chinese diplomats have stressed three major points in regard to the Cheonan case: South Korea must keep its composure and not rush to counteraction; the investigation must be proven to have been carried out in a scientific and objective manner; and peace and security on the Korean Peninsula must be maintained.

One foreign diplomat in Seoul said, “Whenever the Cheonan came up during the conversation with the Chinese, the first thing they’d always say, without exception, was that the peace and security on the Korean Peninsula must be ensured.”

A South Korean government official said yesterday that China’s position “changed slightly” after the international probe results announced on Thursday included the presentation of the propeller and shaft of a North Korean torpedo.

“Before, China was against taking the Cheonan to the Security Council but for some reason, it has become more discreet,” the official said, without specifying how China had changed.

Another official suspected China was taking a closer look at the physical evidence that was displayed Thursday.

“That may explain why the Chinese Foreign Ministry was cautious [compared to other countries],” the official said. “We will continue to ask for China’s understanding and cooperation, taking into account Premier Wen Jiabao’s visit to South Korea later this month.”

Sweden, one of the countries which participated in the investigation, had been mentioned as another cautious party. Its Foreign Ministry has confirmed, however, that there was unanimity within the international investigation team and that it condemns the North Korean action.

By Kang Chan-ho [jeeho@joongang.co.kr]

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