Beijing’s shortsighted leadersThe past 5,000 years is a testament to the interwoven fates of the Korean Peninsula and China. Korea’s royal court tried to keep its immense neighbor at bay by paying in tribute and wealth. But whenever new dynasties took power, they would strike the peninsula to test their clout.
Once again, we reassess China on its role in the region and its meaning for our country as dark clouds loom overhead in the wake of a surprise attack on one of our Naval ships by North Korea. We cannot question its leadership, as it continues to defend the North even though all other members of the international community have united in condemning the belligerent country on the overwhelming evidence of an unwarranted torpedo attack.
China has stressed the importance of an objective and scientific investigation into the Cheonan sinking. South Korea has been careful about drawing its conclusion from the beginning. To assure fairness and objectivity, it brought in investigators from the United States, Britain, Australia and Sweden. Through persistent effort, the investigation team was able to present “overwhelming” and irrefutable evidence, including the smoking gun of a propeller belonging to a North Korean torpedo.
The international community has also been quick in displaying support for the findings, all condemning North Korea. Even noncompliant India joined the chorus. Yet China reiterated the call for calmness and restraint, aiming more at the South than the North.
We understand the awkward position China must be in. It may fear that escalated tension could threaten regional peace and security as well as undermine the Pyongyang regime, which would be against China’s interests. A lot may be going through the heads of Chinese leaders as they parse the scenario. The current regime could crumble, sending thousands of refugees across the border into China, or in a stretch, the country might one day face a border with a democratic state with a strong alliance with the United States.
In short, they may be agreeing that keeping the Korean Peninsula in its current status quo best fits China’s interests. But if they believe this, they are being shortsighted. Would serving as patron to an antiquated hereditary dictatorship help the country as it aims to position itself as a global power in a world heading toward freedom and joint prosperity?
China needs to broaden its diplomatic imagination. Making Northeast Asia a safe, peaceful, free and prosperous region is the goal that benefits China most in the longer run. It must look beyond the immediate gains to become a truly big state.