Friday, March 22, 2013

China's 'Policy' Toward North Korea


Hanyang University law professor Lee Jae-min asks a good question in his Korea Herald column this week: "Why do we keep losing this game?" (March 20, 2013). By that, he means why does North Korea continue to have the advantage over South Korea in getting what it wants in its nuclear aims. Part of the answer is China, which is the North's ally, of course, and supports it for that reason, but more important than the alliance is China's fear that enforcing sanctions on the North could precipitate its collapse and destabilize Northeast Asia. Professor Lee knows all this, of course. But things have changed since the North's third nuclear test recently, he notes, and he offers a suggestion:
Perhaps one thing to consider in this regard is how to make Beijing fully aware that an unbridled, nuclear-armed North Korea would undermine its national interest. In light of this, it is interesting to watch the reportedly growing complaints in China against North Korea after its nuclear test.
This ought to be simple enough since a nuclear-armed North Korea is very destabilizing for Northeast Asia, but China should have recognized this twenty years ago, when we already knew that the North was pursuing a nuclear program. Individual Chinese did see the problem, and commented on it as against China's interests, but the Chinese government was less clear. Why has the Chinese leadership failed? Seton Hall University professor of international relations Zheng Wang asks a pertinent question in the New York Times: "Does China Have a Foreign Policy?" (March 18, 2013). Here's what he says:
While many Western analysts focus on the balance of reformers and conservatives in China's new leadership, most overlook the absence of career diplomats and foreign affairs experts at the highest level of power in Beijing . . . . [T]he position that foreign policy occupies in the Chinese political system is very low . . . . China watchers have a tendency to overstate the sophistication of Beijing's foreign policy and ambitions, but the truth is that China's foreign policy is highly deficient . . . . The absence of clear policy . . . partly explains why China lacks decisive influence even over strategic allies who depend most on its support, like North Korea . . . . North Korea's recent nuclear test and decision to nullify the 1953 armistice that ended the Korean War is but the latest example. If a country [such as China] does not have a clear foreign policy, it will not know when, where and how to use its power. It cannot provide a road map for its allies to follow.
If Professor Wang is right, then helping Beijing see its national interests in the North Korean conundrum might prove difficult.

We can only try . . .

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