[Viewpoint] China should see the wreckPresident Lee Myung-bak defined the March 26 sinking of the naval corvette Cheonan as a North Korean act of military aggression against South Korea. Now all eyes are on Chinese President Hu Jintao for Beijing’s formal reaction to the overwhelming evidence showing that North Korea torpedoed the Cheonan.
However, China, a key ally of North Korea, still remains ambiguous on its position on the attack even amid mounting international condemnation. The United States gave unequivocal support after the investigation found North Korea culpable of the sinking.
President Barack Obama ordered U.S. military commanders to coordinate closely with their South Korean counterparts to enhance readiness and deter future provocation from North Korea. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton visited Japan, China and South Korea in a campaign to muster support for Seoul and condemn Pyongyang. In Seoul, Clinton discussed possible retaliatory actions against “unacceptable provocation by North Korea.”
Other countries also quickly responded to help mount pressure on North Korea. Japan’s Prime Minister Yukio Hatoyama announced new sanctions against North Korea, including cutting cash remittance to North Korea, and pledged cooperation with South Korea and the United States in their policies on the Cheonan sinking.
Britain, France, Australia, the North Atlantic Treaty Organization and even India, a nonaligned country, joined the international chorus of condemnation.
As the whole world raised its voice rebuking North Korean leader Kim Jong-il, China called for “calmness and restraint.” Its singular defense of North Korea’s murderous act does not match its global economic weight as it doesn’t match Hu’s own vision of China rising to become a responsible and powerful state.
Beijing gave a warm welcome and hospitality to a visiting Kim Jong-il in early May amid heavy protests from Seoul and Washington in the aftermath of the Cheonan sinking. It tried to restore Sino-North Korean ties, which were chilled after China supported the United Nations Security Council Resolution to punish North Korea for its nuclear test in May last year.
But China’s attitude toward North Korea must change. The country has now become a superpower just next in line to the United States. Its military power is strengthening rapidly, emboldened by its economic might.
The world is watching closely the country’s ascension in global stature amid mixed views that its clout may be threatening or beneficial to world peace. Hu and his predecessor Jiang Zemin have pursued policies aimed at building a “xiaokang,” or a prosperous Socialist society for the middle class, promising their commitment to peace, cooperation and contribution to the global society in order to mollify fear and unease over China’s rise.
Yet China remains unchanged in its disregard for human rights and freedom of speech and overprotection of its currency despite international protests. China must avoid falling prey to the arrogance and self-important nationalism fervor of a superpower. No strong nations lacking moral sense have gained respect from international society.
If it continues to help the authoritarian dictatorships of Sudan, Myanmar and Venezuela in return for resources, and stand protective of North Korea despite its torpedo attack, China’s name inevitably will be tainted as a patron of rogue nations.
China had to endure the cold shoulder of the international community for decades following its role in the 1950-1953 Korean War. It must recall its past to seek a different diplomatic tack as a result of the Cheonan sinking.
North Korea has been vehemently claiming that it has been framed by a fabricated South Korean investigation and demanded to send its own inspectors while threatening all-out war.
President Hu must take a firm stand to stop Kim Jong-il from playing with fire and join the chorus of international condemnation. China must demonstrate its pledged “responsible role” in international society to settle the nuclear issue as well.
Premier Wen Jiabao, who visited Seoul for a Korea-China-Japan summit this weekend, must see the wreckage of the Cheonan with his own eyes and declare China’s position unequivocally.
President Lee Myung-bak declared South Korea will invoke its rights to defend the country if North Korea attempts another provocation in sea, air or land.
Still, the pro-North Korean forces are condemning the government for threatening to go to war. They must come to their senses.
Now the entire nation must stand united in supporting the president in seeking international support for decisive sanctions against North Korea to overcome the worst post-war security crisis together.
*Translation by the JoongAng Daily staff.
The writer is a professor on international politics at Inha University.
By Choi Myung-sang