[Viewpoint] What will China do next?

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[Viewpoint] What will China do next?

North Korea appears undeterred in its determination to launch a bal-listic missile this month. The test would clearly violate UN Security Council Resolution 1874 and the Feb. 29 understanding reached between U.S. and North Korean negotiators. Moreover, there is little doubt that Pyongyang's aim with this fourth long-range-missile test is to continue developing and demonstrating its ca-pacity to threaten the United States and its allies with a delivery system for the North's growing nuclear weap-ons capability.

Now the pro-North Korean organ-ization Chosen Soren in Japan has an-nounced that if the United States cuts off food aid, the North might follow with a nuclear test. I suspect they will, not because of the U.S. reaction to the missile test, but because the North is fully determined to continue fulfilling its nuclear weaponization plans.

Short of war, only one factor could possibly stop the North from continu-ing down this path: China.

Officials in Beijing claim that they have no influence over North Korea, but estimates are that as much as 80 percent of the North's food and fuel is imported from China, a clear indica-tion that the juche philosophy of self-sufficiency is a myth, and that Beijing could exert considerable leverage if it chose to. We now understand in the wake of the Cheonan warship and Yeongpyong Island attacks that China is loath to pressure Pyongyang since — as a very senior Chinese told a visit-ing American delegation last year — Beijing does not want a North Korean collapse, North Korean refugees, or a unified Korean peninsula under Seoul that would be inclined to align with the United States. In addition, Chi-nese leaders still see their major threats as being internal, particularly in Xin-jiang. From China's perspective, there is a certain logic to this de facto sup-port for North Korea's bad behavior. For the rest of Asia, however, it is a problem.

There should be little doubt that Beijing is furious at Pyongyang, and that Pyongyang knows Beijing is un-likely to do much about it. Thus far, Beijing has taken a typically neutral stance, indicating only slightly its an-noyance at Pyongyang. The official line from the Chinese Foreign Minis-try has been to argue that "all parties shoulder common responsibilities and share common interests in safe-guarding peace and stability on the Korean Peninsula and in Northeast Asia." It also hopes "that all parties concerned will remain level-headed and exercise restraint."

It's not clear how the United States or South Korea should "shoulder common responsibilities" for North Korea's announcement that it will unilaterally abrogate its Feb. 29 agree-ment with the United States and vio-late UNSC Resolution 1874. Clearly, though, Beijing does not want any sig-nificant pressure put on Pyongyang by the United States or its allies in Asia.

American, Korean and other offi-cials have tried to urge their Chinese counterparts to see why pressing North Korea to halt provocations and denuclearize should be in China's own interests. Naturally, the United States and Korea share an interest in improving overall trust with Beijing. However, China has a very pragmatic and self-interested foreign policy and there is not much more that the rest of us can tell Chinese leaders about their interests on the Korean peninsula that they have not long ago considered.

What is effective, however, is when actions by the United States and other parties demonstrate to China the consequences of North Korean provo-cations for China's own longer-term position in Asia. Beijing is no doubt unhappy that U.S., Korean and Japa-nese militaries will cooperate in track-ing the North's launch and may con-sider intercepting it with their missile defense systems. But Beijing must also appreciate that its passive stance to-wards the North's provocations and steady march towards deliverable nu-clear weapons give the United States and its allies in Asia few other choices but to enhance their own defences.

It is a delicate game, but the situa-tion requires it.


* The author is a senior adviser and Japan Chair at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington.

by Michael Green
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