Second chance at diplomacyAfter a painful two months, China has finally joined the discussion on the Cheonan sinking. The problem is the direction and speed of the development from here on. First of all, our government is facing an unprecedented challenge in terms of its diplomatic abilities. The tone of the joint statement by the South Korean, Chinese and Japanese leaders regarding the Cheonan sinking following their summit yesterday falls well short of our expectations. Expressing condolences for the dead soldiers and consolation for their families and the South Korean people, the statement simply said that each country appreciates the results of the joint civilian and military investigation and the global reaction to the tragedy, while promising to continue to consult with each other to maintain peace and stability in Northeast Asia. But China’s joining the meeting represents a significant turning point.
In particular, we take note of the fact that there is a meaningful change in China’s position. Earlier, China said it is in the process of assessing and analyzing the investigation results, but it has now stated that it values the joint investigation and the international community’s response to the investigation results. That’s a big departure from Chinese Foreign Minister Yang Jiechi’s earlier statement stressing the importance of an objective and scientific probe.
We also appreciate the attitude of Japanese Prime Minister Yukio Hatoyama, who proposed a silent tribute to the victims at the summit and stressed that the resumption of the six-party talks will be possible only when North Korea apologizes for the incident. Japan has already revised the law to inspect North Korean vessels at sea and tightened regulations on remittances to North Korea.
But it would be naive to expect that China, a blood ally of North Korea, will toughen sanctions against the North on the same level as Japan. However, if China is a responsible country promoting justice, as Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao has expressed, it should actively join international efforts to pressure the North to accept its wrongdoing, apologize and promise to stop the recurrence of such an aggression. The whole world will watch closely what measures China will take in the process of discussion on the punishment in the UN Security Council.
With our government’s first round of Cheonan diplomacy completed yesterday, the second round starts now, followed by the Asian Security Conference in Singapore and G-20 meeting in Canada in June. The government must exert all diplomatic efforts to make North Korea pay for what it did with an official apology, a promise for compensation for our losses and punishment for those involved in the sinking.