China shows softer stance on Korean reunification in report

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China shows softer stance on Korean reunification in report

It is a “miscalculation” to think that Beijing will not give up on North Korea, a leading Chinese think tank stated in a recent report.

In the paper, the state-run Chinese Academy of Social Sciences (CASS), the country’s top research institute in social sciences, said that “in 10 years, the key issue in North and South Korean relations will be the unification issue.”

Pyongyang has to “dispel the miscalculation that China will not abandon North Korea, no matter what the situation,” in working toward future regional security and the reunification of the peninsula, it added.

It is rare for Beijing’s leading policy think tank to raise the issue of unification so publicly, as China has traditionally regulated such discussions closely.

While China previously expressed trepidation regarding the idea of a reunified Korea, the report appears to take the opposite view, promoting a forward-looking policy in regard to a possible reunification.

This indicates that if regional security and the reunification of the Koreas are to China’s benefit, Beijing is ready to give up on North Korea’s strategic importance as a buffer between China and U.S. troops in South Korea.

As the first year of Xi Jinping’s presidency comes to a close, the 2014 Asia-Pacific regional development report analyzed Beijing’s strategies and policies in the region over the next five to 10 years.

There are three possible scenarios that could play out within the next decade on the Korean Peninsula, the report said: North and South Korea could be reunited, the status quo may be maintained or an armed clash could ignite.

The main reason reunification will become the key issue between the Koreas in the future, the report said, is largely because South Korea has abandoned its “unification by force” policy and, rather, is now leading a peaceful reunification policy.

If the President Park Geun-hye administration exempts the possibility of a collapse of the North Korean regime and expands the government’s North Korea policy, Pyongyang might show a more positive response toward reunification and other issues, the CASS analysis said.

The report also forecasted that - depending on the roles taken by China and the United States - North and South Korean relations could still be greatly reformed, though reunification in the near future is not likely based on the current situation.

Other issues on the Korean Peninsula include political security in the North and economic development, it said.

The Korean Peninsula issue is complicated because China and the United States have to satisfy North and South Korea, respectively, while at the same time Beijing also has to take its own interests into consideration.

However, the threat of a total war between North and South Korea in the future is nearly nonexistent, the report added. Excluding North Korea’s nuclear potential, Pyongyang knows it is no match for the South’s military power, it said. While South Korea does not fear the regime’s nuclear threat even though Seoul is within the North’s artillery range, in the case of war it has too much to lose, and the economic impact would be huge.

The report pointed to the flourishing exchange between Xi Jinping’s China and South Korea.

“Both South Korea and China have greater mutual interdependence due to North Korea, an increasing rightist Japan, the economy, culture and other areas, and whatever administration takes over, it will be difficult to change the current structure,” said Li Yung-chun, a CASS researcher.

“However, South Korea .?.?. needs balanced diplomacy, as Seoul-Washington relations are becoming a key element in whether China and South Korea deepen ties.”


BY CHOI HYUNG-KYU, SARAH KIM [sarahkim@joongang.co.kr]

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