Don’t be overly hopeful

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Don’t be overly hopeful

Over the past few days, I spoke with two Chinese friends. Both of them are experts in Chinese foreign policy. While the two work for different agencies and are not acquainted with each other, they had similar views.

Q. Korea and the United States feel that China can play a key role in resolving the North Korean nuclear crisis as Beijing has great influence on the North. What do you think?

A. It is hardly the case. The root of North Korean nuclear tension is the discord between the United States and North Korea. While China also opposes North Korea’s nuclear armament, the nuclear issue can only be solved when the United States negotiates with North Korea.

But the problem is that North Korea refuses to talk. So strong sanctions are suggested to bring Pyongyang to the talk table.

Cutting off oil and food supplies will make the people suffer before the regime collapses. I cannot agree with the logic that sanctions would make North Korea talk. Let’s flip the question. If cutting off the money supply is the key, why does Korea still operate the Kaesong Industrial Complex? It is the biggest cash cow for North Korea.

Of course, they didn’t mean that the Kaesong Industrial Complex should be shut down. They were discontented with how China is pressured to take an initiative to threaten North Korea. These experts are not pro-Pyongyang and friendlier towards Korea, but they still have different stance on the nuclear issue.

After the fourth nuclear test, disappointment over China’s attitude is spreading in Korea. We thought that China would join the sanctions this time but doesn’t seem like it will. We need to find out where this expectation of China’s participation comes from. We are mistaken if we had high hopes that China would be on our side, probably because of the illusion of “the best Korea-China relations in history.” Here, the Korean authorities are largely responsible for the misunderstanding.

In September, President Park Geun-hye attended the Tiananmen military parade and had a meeting with Xi Jinping. After the meeting, she said, “In the near future, various discussions on how to attain peaceful reunification of the Korean Peninsula will begin.” Even if the two leaders had important discussions, she fanned hasty anticipation by mentioning what should have remained confidential for awhile.

China’s view of North Korea as a strategic asset rather than a liability remains the same. We need to reflect on whether we were overly hopeful for no reason when China has remained the same.

The author is the Beijing bureau chief of the JoongAng Ilbo.

JoongAng Ilbo, Jan. 30, Page 30

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