China’s tipping point

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China’s tipping point

After the government made the drastic decision to suspend operations at the Kaesong Industrial Complex as part of its reaction to North Korea’s latest long-range missile test, the international community is closely watching to see how China will react. Seoul’s decision to stop the last remaining symbol of inter-Korean cooperation is aimed at countering the North’s ill-conceived nuclear provocations once and for all. But if the bold move is to succeed, Beijing’s cooperation is essential.

China has joined anti-North sanctions in accordance with a series of past UN Security Council resolutions. However, as the trade between North Korea and China over the last few years strongly suggests, the efficacy of Beijing’s participation has always been in doubt. China has consistently demonstrated lukewarm attitudes toward the sanctions for one reason or another. For instance, China excused itself from stopping all oil supplies by saying that North Korea could import it from Russia. Beijing even said that a reduction of food supplies would only worsen the suffering of North Korean citizens.

China is trying once again to lower the level of international society’s sanctions with the similar logic that they must not affect the livelihoods of North Korean people. But China must change the way it deals with the North. Pyongyang is estimated to have spent a whopping $850 million launching the long-range rocket carrying its Kwangmyongsong-4 satellite Sunday. That amount of money is large enough to feed 20 million North Koreans for a year if it were used to purchase about 2.5 million tons of corn from China. Beijing must realize that what really harms the good of North Koreans are not the sanctions but the Pyongyang regime’s determination to develop nuclear weapons to ensure its survival.

North Korea does not fear the international community’s sanctions - no matter how tough they are - as it has a close neighbor it can resort to anytime. As long as China regards the North as sort of a strategic asset, the North will continue to believe that Beijing will prevent international society from pushing it to the brink of collapse. As a result, the North could conduct a chain of nuclear tests and missile launches, which pushes not only the Korean Peninsula but also Northeast Asia into a tinderbox. Conventional wisdom says some things are better late than never. Beijing must scrap its policy of propping up Pyongyang whatever it does and join toughened international sanctions. That’s the only way for China to genuinely help improve the lives of its people. JoongAng Ilbo, Feb. 11, page 26

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