Master plan neededU.S. President Barack Obama made some notable remarks this week. In an interview on ABC’s “Good Morning America,” Obama said that China has begun to see North Korea in a different way. He mentioned that Beijing has been restrained in dealing with the North in fear of the collapse of the Pyongyang regime but its attitudes are changing. Obama stressed that we will see a moment when Beijing declares, “You know what? This is startin’ to get outta hand.” A U.S. president talking about China changing its views draws keen attention.
In fact, China did signal an attitude change after North Korea’s third nuclear test. After approving even tougher sanctions against Pyongyang in a UN resolution, Beijing showed signs of tougher customs clearance at the border and sea ports and stricter control over suspicious North Korean bank accounts in China. A voice within the Communist Party of China even argued that Beijing abandon its ally. Though that will probably not directly translate into a shift on the governmental level, it is a noteworthy change.
We are not sure if Obama made the remarks out of wishful thinking or after communications with China’s leadership. But the remarks reflect a recognition that a change in China’s attitude is pivotal to solving the nuclear conundrum. Yet a merely passive attitude of shifting responsibility for the crisis to China cannot resolve it. Washington and Beijing can only find a breakthrough when both are determined to address the issue in a fundamental way.
Obama has made clear his position that Washington will not compensate Pyongyang for merely returning to the negotiating table. However, he explicitly said that the U.S. can embark on dialogue if the North takes measures to rebuild trust such as stopping its nuclear and missile experiments. Obama should deliver his views to new Chinese President Xi Jinping to encourage Beijing to proactively solve the puzzle together with Washington.
Of course, cooperation between the two superpowers will not be easy given their ever-growing rivalry, which leaves room for Seoul’s role, including the presentation of a blueprint for peace on the peninsula. Seoul should polish a master plan in close consultations with Washington and Beijing. The success of President Park Geun-hye’s diplomacy for the next five years depends on it.
Park will visit Washington in May for a summit with Obama. She must devise an ambitious and creative solution to the Gordian knot before the trip. Her diplomacy and security team must help her find the solutions through frequent contact with their counterparts in Washington and Beijing.