Keep nuclear ambiguity an optionMilitary experts speculate that some nuclear weapons loaded onto U.S. naval vessels or Strategic Air Force bombers that took part in the U.S.-Korea joint military exercises, the Key Resolve and the Foal Eagle, could be left behind. Of course, they are extremely sensitive issues. The U.S. authorities would neither confirm nor deny not only participation of any naval vessels or bombers armed with nuclear weapons, but also the possibility of leaving any warheads behind when the drills are over. Either way, the strategic ambiguity will be useful, as long as it poses a threat to China as well as North Korea.
Since its third nuclear test last month, North Korea openly boasts of being a nuclear state and threatens South Korea with a nuclear war, menacing that it can turn the South into a “sea of fire.” It even brags as if it can strike the U.S. mainland with nuclear bombs. Neighboring countries contend that the North’s nuclear problem should be resolved through negotiations. However, none believe in earnest that Pyongyang will give up its nuclear program in exchange for a negotiated settlement. The prolonged negotiations in the past 11 years have only earned North Korea time to extract enough plutonium to produce additional nuclear warheads, and even develop a highly-enriched uranium program. They even rewarded the North with compensations even if it violated agreements. Now, the only peaceful means available are the sanctions specified in the UN Security Council Resolution 2094.
The latest resolution consists of effective and strong measures that aim to block the flow of material and money for the development of nuclear weapons and missiles into the reclusive regime. The number of targeted North Korean organizations and individuals and the list of banned items are expanded. Sanction against the North’s financial transactions and inspections of all suspicious cargo that has originated from it are toughened. But the UN sanction alone cannot produce actual results, if China, which controls over 70 percent of its ally’s economy and supplies vital strategic materials for the survival of the Pyongyang regime, does not heartily participate in its implementation.
According to the Yonhap News, China’s ambassador to UN, Li Baodong, said China is a country that is faithful to its “principles.” Li emphasized that China tries hard to keep peace and stability in the Korean Peninsula and Northeast Asia and exerts efforts for nuclear nonproliferation, denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula and the peaceful solution of the nuclear issue through dialogue and negotiations. Advocating the resumption of the six-party talks, he said, “The UN Security Council adopted the resolution not for sanctions .?.?. what is urgent is a resumption of diplomacy to reduce tensions and putting negotiations back on track.” In short, China is not much interested in sanction against its ally. Instead, it will try hard to resume the defunct six-party talks, sticking to “the principle of peaceful solutions through dialogue and negotiations.”
In an interview with ABC earlier this month, U.S. President Barack Obama said that China is “reassessing” its policy on North Korea and starts to say that the troublesome communist neighbor is getting uncontrollable. One day later, President Obama called China’s new President Xi Jinping to congratulate on his assumption of the post. According to the White House, Obama highlighted the nuclear threat to America, its allies and the region and sought close coordination with China on the issue.
To that, China’s Foreign Ministry simply said, “President Xi explained China’s position on the situation surrounding the Korean Peninsula in principle,” refraining from mentioning the conversation in detail. On main points, too, there were differences. While Washington emphasized that the two presidents discussed the crucial U.S.-China relationship, Beijing said China called for equal rights and mutual respect. The impression is that the U.S. side tried to win favor of China one-sidedly.
If Xi’s position is coherent to “the principle of peaceful solutions,” mentioned by Li Baodong, Obama’s assessment that China is “reassessing” its policy on North Korea is based on wrong information. Also, the White House statement that Obama sought close consultation with China on the issue could be nothing more than empty words. As long as China does not recalculate its policy on the North, it is not possible to resolve the nuclear issue with the UN resolution.
Bejing should change its position on the Pyongyang’s nuclear program. As one of the two most powerful countries in the world, China has the obligation not only to observe the UN resolution, but also to spearhead their implementations. It must take action to stop the suspicious flow of material and fund into Pyongyang. At the same time, Beijing must stop providing grain and oil, the vital lifeline to North Korean dictatorship, as long as the North refuses to give up on its nuclear program. If China fails to observe the UN resolution and sticks to the policy of protecting the dictatorship in its neighborhood, we should find a better way to turn Beijing around.
China got anxious when a U.S. aircraft carrier was deployed in the Yellow Sea. In the aftermath of the North’s shelling of Yeonpyeong Island in November 2010, a joint exercise was held in the sea with the participation of USS George Washington. Chinese Foreign Ministry issued a statement condemning that the presence of aircraft carrier on the waters raised military tension. The ministry complained that China’s Hebei province, which includes Beijing, and Liaoning province were within the operational range of F-Hornet, carrier-based aircraft. Chinese Defense Ministry hurriedly carried out large-scale military drills and rocket firing exercises in Shandong Province.
If Beijing refuses to implement recommendations specified in the latest UN resolution, the United States and South Korea cannot but take necessary counter measures, including deployment of U.S. aircraft carrier in the Yellow Sea. The Korean Peninsula also needs to be in the operational reach of the U.S. Strategic Air Force and under the U.S. missile defense system. China should take necessary action lest the U.S. nuclear deterrence gets closer to its territory.
*The author is a visiting professor of communications at Sejong University.
by Park Sung-soo