China’s dangerous embraceDespite the deepening crisis on the Korean Peninsula over North Korea’s bombardment of Yeonpyeong Island and the country’s uranium enrichment program, China’s attempt to embrace its ally has gone too far. Chinese State Councilor Dai Bingguo reportedly called on North Korea to restrain its military provocations when he met with North Korean leader Kim Jong-il last Thursday, but it was little more than lip service. In response, Kim Jong-il was reported to have reiterated that the North was just responding to an attack from the South.
Dai even broke diplomatic protocol and attempted to meet with President Lee Myung-bak immediately after the Yeonpyeong attack. But as his proposal for a resumption of six-party talks was rejected by President Lee at the meeting, he then came up with a proposal for an emergency meeting of the six nations’ senior officials. Such a unilateral action that ignores South Korea’s position stands in sharp contrast to China’s attitude toward the North.
In his call to Chinese President Hu Jintao before Dai’s visit to Pyongyang, U.S. President Barack Obama urged Hu to play a more aggressive role in deterring future aggression from the North. Yet Hu was reported to have had a lukewarm response to the North’s shelling of Yeonpyeong Island.
Now, the Chinese government appears to be pushing even harder for the idea of an emergency meeting among senior officials of the six parties, regardless of explicit opposition from South Korea, the U.S. and Japan. Although North Korean Foreign Minister Park Ui-chun has already vowed to “augment our nuclear deterrence,” China is still moving in step with the North Koreans, rather than criticizing them.
We are deeply concerned that China’s lopsided defense of Pyongyang will further encourage, rather than contain, North Korea’s ever-growing bellicosity. China argues that the security of the Korean Peninsula is essential. But it has always taken the contradictory position of demanding that the South endure the North’s belligerence while taking no action.
Does China want to see a revival of the Cold War in Northeast Asia? The international community, including South Korea, believes that the Chinese government is still of the position that such a situation is against China’s national interests. But China’s recent actions make us feel we may have been wrong. China should listen to Obama’s advice that it, too, will face serious danger as long as it continues to shield its recalcitrant ally.