[Viewpoint] Perhaps China can be our leverage

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[Viewpoint] Perhaps China can be our leverage

A joint civilian, military and foreign investigation team, after a thorough forensic study, concluded that a South Korean naval warship was sunk in the waters near the maritime border two months ago by a deadly torpedo attack from North Korea.

The array of hard evidence presented by the investigators silenced various people propounding other theories on the cause of the sinking and irrefutably pointed to a North Korean assault.

North Koreans nevertheless vehemently denied any involvement and instead claimed they were being framed.

They even threatened to wage an “all-out” war if the South and international community act jointly against their state.

The vituperative response is Pyongyang’s typical one - the best defense is offense - when pushed to the wall.

We should put behind us this season of theorizing and suspicions over the sinking of the Cheonan and instead concentrate on studying our options and building a consensus to put our national will into action.

Yet some groups in our society still remain unwilling to accept the investigation’s findings or are pessimistic that China and Russia will stand behind us to support a joint condemnation against North Korea.

Such cautionary warnings can help us ensure accuracy in our investigation and the credibility of our findings in order to coordinate international support and cooperation in the government’s response to North Korea’s action.

They can also act to pressure the government to act more aggressively to win support from North Korea’s traditional allies: China and Russia.

But prolonged suspicion, skepticism and prognoses of drastic consequences can become self-defeating behavior that only limits our options and capabilities.

Such negative thinking can also send the wrong message to North Korea and cement China’s clout over Korean affairs as an established fact, which can lead to perennial loss of confidence in our dealings with North Korea.

The Cheonan case will now move to the United Nations and other international stages.

Before it becomes an international issue, we should form a consensus at home that will enable us to muster the energy needed for concerted efforts on the international front through diverse diplomatic channels.

The United States has also begun rallying support on our behalf through foreign ministerial meetings with Japan and Korea and a strategic meeting with China.

The UN Command, too, is looking into North Korea’s violation of the armistice between South and North Korea and possible countermeasures

The most challenging task is to bring China - North Korea’s sole patron and a UN Security Council permanent member with veto power - to join the international response.

China, which supports peace and stability on the Korean Peninsula, is calling for diplomatic effort and dialogue rather than punitive action against North Korea.

China may be weighing what would be the bigger cost: On the one hand, heightened tension and human misery in North Korea if it is slapped with further trade sanctions or, on the other, criticism of Beijing if it refuses to join the international side.

So we should strive to sway Beijing through bilateral talks and separately work to build an international chorus to pressure China.

We should also play up the significance of the Chinese role in establishing lasting peace and stability on the Korean Peninsula to persuade the Chinese to play a balanced and constructive role in Korean affairs.

There is no need to limit our options by assuming China cannot be won over. Depending on our efforts, China can be our leverage.

It is important to build a bilateral consensus on what circumstances can promote lasting regional peace and stability and then present the new role that China can play toward that goal.

That’s because the Cheonan incident can give momentum to a new Sino-South Korea strategic partnership.

What South Korea sincerely yearns for is not tension, conflict, war or the collapse of the North Korean regime, but perpetual peace, stability and prosperity.

For such a goal, North Korea must morph into a normal state. To facilitate the transformation, we should reinforce our national power as well as sustain an impeccable security posture through our alliance with the U.S. to stimulate change within North Korea.

Meanwhile, we need to continue with endeavors to seek international support in our goals.

We should not limit ourselves and jump to conclusions on what we can or cannot do, but instead work toward expanding our horizons and options through all-out diplomatic efforts.

*The writer is a professor at the Institute of Foreign Affairs and National Security.Translation by the JoongAng Daily staff.

By Choi Kang
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