New policy neededEvery time North Korea detonates a nuclear device, the world looks to Beijing. China is in the most effective and powerful position to influence North Korea - if it wants to. No international action to punish Pyongyang is possible without the participation of Beijing. But Beijing has not lived up to the expectations.
Beijing has dialed up its pressure as Pyongyang repeatedly defied warnings on its nuclear weapons development. After North Korea’s nuclear test, Beijing warned Pyongyang not to worsen geopolitical conditions. It was rare for Beijing to specifically point at Pyongyang for worsening problems on the Korean Peninsula. Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi condemned North Korea’s action, which was “in disregard of widespread opposition from the international community” during a New Year’s dinner reception for foreign ambassadors in Beijing. North Korean ambassador to China Ji Jae-ryong was present.
But stronger rhetoric will do little to tame North Korea. There are several practical reasons Beijing does not act more proactively to fix the nuclear problem.
First of all, Beijing wishes to maintain the status quo on the Korean Peninsula. Any sudden collapse or war could upset its domestic growth. Second, North Korea is strategically valuable for China in its power struggle with the United States.
Beijing has separated the nuclear issue from its broader North Korea policy since the summer of 2009 following the second nuclear test. It hopes the nuclear issue can be solved through six-party negotiations while it tries to normalize the reclusive state through economic cooperation.
China believes North Korea will eventually give up nuclear weapons if it becomes involved with the international community through commerce. That is why it has been championing a two-track policy.
Beijing’s supplying of food and fuel to North Korea has watered down the effect of international sanctions. After North Korea conducted two nuclear tests over the last six years, Beijing lost face in a major way.
President Xi Jinping sees himself as a reformist. Beijing needs to reform its North Korea policy. North Korea will pose a risk to China as long has it keeps its nuclear weapons program. There is always the danger of North Korean weapons falling into the hands of insurgent forces. By working closely with Washington to address nuclear problem, Beijing can build trust between the two superpowers.
JoongAng Ilbo, Jan. 9, Page 31