The tripartite disharmony
In the evening of Oct. 10, when North Korea held a military parade in Pyongyang to mark the 70th anniversary of its ruling Workers’ Party, I was in Beijing and had an opportunity to exchange opinions with Chinese experts on North Korea, known as “traditionalists,” on the recent relations between the North and China. Surprisingly, their view was significantly different from that of the South.
They all admitted relations between the North and China are no longer intimate, and they are actually at their worst ever. But they stressed that China did not give up on the North and Beijing is making various efforts to improve relations. And they showed concerns that the South is making a wrong interpretation of recent developments and its view is seriously distorted.
One of the examples they pointed out was the South’s argument that Beijing treated Choe Ryong-hae, Kim Jong-un’s envoy to China’s Victory Day event, poorly. While President Park Geun-hye was seated on the front row near Chinese President Xi Jinping at the military parade in Beijing on Sept. 3, Choe was seated at the back row, Korean media reported.
It was also reported that Xi snubbed Choe by not meeting with him. The Chinese experts said the reports were wrong. Although Choe was just a secretary of a party, he received special treatment as if he were a state leader, and he had enough opportunities to talk to high-ranking Chinese officials, they said. They were also critical of the South Korean media reports that said Kim sent a congratulatory message to China’s National Day on Oct. 1 that contained just “two sentences.” The two sentences included all necessary key messages, they pointed out. They also said Xi sent a long message to Kim to celebrate the 70th anniversary of the Workers’ Party, endorsing some of Kim’s abilities to control the country and supporting him. They, therefore, said it is undesirable to jump to conclusions on the North-China relations.
They criticized President Park’s remark to the press on her way back from China in September. She said South Korea and China agreed to have strategic talks through various channels for the peaceful unification of the Korean Peninsula. Xi emphasized during his meeting with Park that he supports “independent” peaceful unification between the two Koreas, they said. The unification is a matter for the South and the North, and there is no need to drag China and the United States into the issue, they said.
They also said the South must stop making groundless rumors on North-China relations. Recently, a daily newspaper in the South reported that China made a proposal on dividing the North for stability.
The report said China proposed to the United States that if a war breaks out on the Korean Peninsula, the area occupied by the North must be divided into four zones and the United States, China, Russia and the South should take control of each zones. The report said the commander of the U.S. Forces Korea asked the South Korean military to review the proposal, but the South turned it down. The experts say such a groundless report will not only provoke the North, but also damage the South Korea-China relations.
In August, China conducted a massive military exercise at the North Korea-China border, following a similar drill in October last year. The South appeared to be treating it as China’s exercise to intervene militarily in the North, but that is wrong, they said.
They said it is more accurate to see that the exercises were intended to prepare for the South Korea-U.S. combined forces’ intervention into the North Korean territory to secure its weapons of mass destruction and stabilize the area.
Their views can easily be simplified. They are saying that the worsened relations between the North and China won’t benefit the South and they can actually be a disaster to the South. Only when China can exercise its influence over the North, will it help inter-Korean relations to improve and find a route to resolve the nuclear issue.
Finding an exit only through sanctions and pressures such as stopping fuel oil is impossible. The time has come for South Korea to end its Cold War-era habits.
Many said relations between the South and China have grown superior, but the traditionalists’ view perhaps more accurately reflects the official line of the Chinese government. To this end, the outcome of the Korea-U.S. summit appeared to be distant from the expectation of China. The Chinese government sent Liu Yunshan, its fifth highest official, to Pyongyang to improve the tie, and persuaded the North to stop its planned rocket launch.
The Chinese leadership also expected a major shift in U.S. policy toward the North in time with Park’s visit, such as the resumption of the six-party talks. But the outcome was different. The Obama administration’s “strategic patience” and the South Korean government’s “international cooperation for sanctions and pressures” were left as key messages from the summit.
The aftermath of the disharmony between Beijing and Seoul and between Beijing and Washington is seriously worrisome.
Seoul must stop making diplomatic moves based on self-centered interpretations. For the Park administration to garner success in the diplomacy of the peninsula and Northeast Asia during the remainder of her term, a more cold-headed examination of the international environment and security reality is a must.
JoongAng Ilbo, Oct. 19, Page 35
*The author is a professor of political science at the Yonsei University.
by Moon Chun-in