Beijing must restrain PyongyangA mediator must be a reliable neutral party in order to resolve conflict and arrange a settlement between the parties in dispute. The role demands fair and objective judgment as well as a proven ability to exercise strict neutrality. In this respect, then, China would be a poor mediator between the two Koreas.
North Korea ruthlessly shelled Yeonpyeong Island, home to hundreds of South Korean civilians, in broad daylight, drawing the condemnation of the international community. In firing on the island, North Korea said it was responding to shots from a routine South Korean Naval exercise. However, it is clear that North Korea was the attacker and South Korea was the victim.
If the party volunteering to mediate a conflict sides with the attacker from the beginning, it hardly can gain the victim’s trust. Without a word of censure against North Korea, China has suddenly proposed that a high-level delegation sit down for six-party denuclearization talks. It is no wonder that its suggestion has largely drawn a skeptical response from the concerned parties.
The tension on the Korean Peninsula is unprecedented, and there is a high possibility that the two Koreas could wage another war if North Korea attempts another heavy attack. Given the seriousness of the situation, Beijing should have put its foot down to ensure there would be no further provocations from North Korea before suggesting a return to peace negotiations.
To propose denuclearization talks while there is a more imminent threat on the peninsula - North Korea is moving its missiles ever closer and threatening retaliation while American and South Korean forces are engaged in a high-alert war game - is hardly convincing. Amid mounting international calls to be assertive in containing Pyongyang and the presence of a nuclear-armed U.S. supercarrier in the Yellow Sea, Beijing’s gesture rings hollow.
Tensions on the Korean Peninsula cannot go on forever. Talks are necessary to ease tension, but there is an order in doing any task.
First, North Korea must apologize and promise to never repeat its provocations. Then, once South Korea is assured of North Korea’s sincerity, the mood for talks on establishing peace in the region will arise naturally. To sit down with North Korea at this point is akin to rewarding the North for its hideous behavior.
This is a sequence of events that Beijing must understand. To host negotiations, Beijing must first warn and restrain Pyongyang. Only then can it persuade Seoul to sit down and talk.