China in the hot seatDespite the international community’s repeated warnings, North Korea has been bent on developing nuclear weapons and ballistic missiles.
China should be held accountable for the North’s uninterrupted pursuit of nuclear armaments. Of course, Beijing joined the UN Security Council’s sanctions against Pyongyang after condemning its nuclear tests. But China always insisted on softer sanctions and always remained opaque about its own implementation of sanctions.
After North Korea’s fourth nuclear test on Jan. 6, China even allowed it to export coal, iron ores and other minerals “for the livelihoods and welfare of North Koreans.” China also confined the UN-imposed restrictions on its oil exports to North Korea to aviation fuel.
Both steps created wide loopholes in the sanctions, the effect of which were greatly diminished. A 6 percentage increase in China’s trading with the North in June compared to the same period last year clearly shows nothing has changed in bilateral relations.
China’s embrace of North Korea is based on its leaders’ judgment that the international community’s firm sanctions could lead to the collapse of the regime in Pyongyang, which would not benefit China in its strategic contest with the United States. After reading Beijing’s intentions adroitly, North Korea has been devoted to developing nuclear weapons without any restrictions. Even after the North’s fifth nuclear test — which indicates Pyongyang is on the threshold of deploying nuclear weapons on powerful missiles — Beijing does not show any sign of meaningful change except for its rhetorical opposition to the North’s nuclear armament and its expression of an intent to participate in discussions on sanctions.
China’s government and its press on Monday joined a chorus blaming America for the North’s nuclear development in order to deflect criticism by the world. More alarming are some Chinese media reports that Seoul’s decision to deploy the Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (Thaad) antimissile system triggered the North’s most recent nuclear test.
Given China’s behavior, we wonder if it will once again attempt to neutralize the Security Council’s next round of sanctions. China must play a pivotal role in forcing North Korea to give up its nuclear ambitions. That is an attitude befitting a country that wants to be a responsible superpower.
JoongAng Ilbo, Sept. 14, Page 26