China's (North) Korea Dilemma, and the unlikely partners across the (East) Sea (/of Japan)

The Brits (Economist, BBC, and even the Times and the Guardian) probably still excels over their wealthy American counterparts in reporting, perhaps the talent pool of Oxbridge graduates does make a difference, more likely it that their reporters take a more objective view.

1) BBC on China's "tough decision"
  • The fact that it is now threatening to [use its UN Security Council veto power] shows just how much Beijing believes its own vital national interest is at stake. (China never exercised its veto power)
  • China's over-riding national interest is stability. The current situation on the Korean peninsula may not be a happy one, but from China's point of view, it is reasonably stable, and it could be a lot worse.
  • The two things China fears the most are a North Korean collapse and another war on the Korean peninsula.
  • There is a very basic problem with the six-party talks structure - North Korea does not like them. The six-party talks force Pyongyang to negotiate with five other countries, including South Korea and the much hated Japan. The North Korean leadership, however, is interested in negotiating with only one country, the US.
  • China has repeatedly appealed to the US government to open direct talks with Pyongyang . .. But direct negotiations with Pyongyang are something the Bush administration has repeatedly refused to consider.
2) (Carnegie Endowment) Pei Minxin's analysis on its Korea Dilemma, unfortunately I couldn't locate the English version -- on BBC's Chinese site
  • 为了惩罚平壤,美国和日本企图通过联合 国安理会来对朝鲜实施经济制裁。但是中国和俄罗斯担心这一措施可能导致金正日进一步铤而走险,造成危机升级。因此中俄反对美日的建议。这样,朝鲜的导弹事 件又一次使中国战到了美日的对立面。中国对北朝鲜的影响力又是北京和华盛顿打交道时的一个重要的外交筹码。所以中国的最佳处境是一个相对顺从北京的北朝鲜 政权继续生存。
  • ... The best situation for China is a relatively obeying North Korean regime which would continue to survive
  • 但是目前金正日企图通过试射导弹和制造核武器来逼美国让步;同时平壤又不顾北京的公开告诫而进行导弹试验,这就迫使中国政府采取措施来迅速 控制局面,既不让美日制裁平壤的决议在联合国安理会通过(因为这可能加速金正日政权的垮台),又得使金正日尝到一点"苦头",从而不再做有害中国战略利益 的坏事。但为了对平壤施加压力,中国应该支持安理会谴责北朝鲜的决议并同时适度减少对北朝鲜的经济援助。只有这种相对平衡的反应才能使华盛顿感到北京是一 个真心诚意合作的伙伴。可是目前中国政府的反应让美国十分失望。北京既不支持联合国安理会通过的决议来谴责北朝鲜又没有采取任何教训金正日的措施。
  • ... Pyongyang ignored the public appeal from Beijing and went on with its missile tests, thus forcing the Chinese governement to take measure to quickly control the situation. China needs to stop the sanction proposal by Japan and US in UNSC (because this would speed up the collapse of the Kim JI regime) [the subsequent refugee and instability would hurt China economically], and in the mean time show Kim Jong-il a bite of the bitter consequence, so that it won't do things harmful to China's strategic interests. However, to exert pressure on Pyongyang, China should support UNSC in condemning NK and reduce its economic aid to NK by an appropriate amount. Only such relatively balanced reaction would provide Washington with the impression of a sincerely cooperating partner. But what Chinese government has done now let US down. China did not support the UNSC proposal, and it did not take ANY measure to teach the Kim J-I regime
  • 在某种 程度上来说,美日犯了一个严重的错误。在中日关系极度低迷的情况下,东京应保持低调,但令人困惑的是,日本在安理会采取了最强硬的立场并提出了制裁北朝鲜 的决议。东京积极努力的效果则[适得]其反。因为中国决不会让日本在处理朝鲜导弹事件上大出外交"风头"。因此东京越是强硬,北京就越会"反强硬",最终是安 理会中出现大国对立,形成外交僵局。如果北京不希望成为北朝鲜无赖行为的战略牺牲品,它现在应马上采取对金正日政权更强硬的措施。中国的国家利益不允许北 朝鲜吧北京拖入一场和华盛顿与东京的战略对抗
  • To a certain extent, US and Japan made a serious mistake.... Tokyo should keep a low profile, but for reasons hard to understand, Japan took the most hard-line position in UN SC. Tokyo's effort achieved exactly the opposite of what it pushed for......it would result in the stand-off in UNSC, and diplomatic paralysis. If Beijing does not want to become the strategic sacrifice of North Korea's rouge behavior, it should take immediate stern measure now against the Kim Jong-il regime. The national interests of China does not allow North Korea to drag it into a strategic rivalry with Washington and Tokyo
3) The Economist suggested that the launch was used to prove to other countires, potential buyers of the missile (ie Iran), that the technology works.


  • China has demonstated genuine interests in dealing with the NK Problem. Otherwise, it would not have pushed for the one-one date meeting between Kim J-I and Bush W, which leaves itself out
  • If the Economist is correct, that NK's is making money on the missile tests. China has even better reason to reduce its aid, telling NK that it does not need so much aid since it is selling more Rodongs.
  • China has no choice but to prevent a collapse of the NK regime, because the economic cost is just too large for China (and political implication for China's internal stability)
  • In addition, there is no way China will agree to a binding sanction by UNSC, neither will russia or even S Korea. Because such sanction constrains these 3 countries but not others (who do not have contact with NK at all). In addition, it allows UN to inspect the goods at the Chinese border and provide excuse if there are minor mistake from low level Chinese staff. All 3 NK neighbors prefer a non-binding resolution and take the action by their own discretion. As a matter of fact, S Korea openly oppose sanction now.
  • Had it been SK's turn to be represented in the UNSC rotation, China would not have to threaten with its veto power. Unfortunately it was Japan's turn at this moment. This event will strengthen China's (and SK's) objection to Japan's UNSC permanent membership.
  • But this time, China has all the reasons (and excuses) to cut its aid to North Korea, as Pei correctly suggested. NK publicly ignored China's appeal, and there is sufficient international pressure on China to cut the aid, as least temporarily. Cuting the aid by 1/4 or even 1/2 would not neccessarily lead to the collapse of the NK regime, since they have enough fund to test the missile.
  • In fact, one may argue it is stupid for China not to capitalize on this opportunity to show NK who the boss is, and bring Kim to submission once and for all -- by imposing sanction in its own way.
  • If US has a genuine interest in dealing with the NK problem, it should try "one on one" negotiation with NK. The fact that US continue to refuse talking puzzles me. If US is really uncomfortable about this, it could ask China as an observer or have China host the negotiation, as a compromise. Bringing Japan in just side-track the negotiation into rather minor (and dated) issue of "1970 kidnapping". There is absolutely no role of Japan in the "six-apart" talk. The only value Japan could provide is perhaps economic aid in exchange of NK's giving up its nuke project, but South Korea alone can afford the cost.
  • It is a reasonable suspicion that Japan has a secret intention to keep NK as a bogeyman, by insisting on marginal issues such as 'kidnapping', and now even provoking NK by the preemptive strike talk! (one could even suspect that Japan is sabotaging Chinese diplomatic envoy to NK, by providing NK with more chips on the table -- because the TMD should be more effective than a preemptive strike to shield Japan from missile attack). After all, Taepodongs do not know how to kidnap a Japanese citizen. OTOH, NK needs Japanese belligerence to justify its weapon development. It is a vicous circle, Pyongyang and Tokyo find themselves unlikely partners in fueling this vicious circle, each to fulfill its own military ambition.
Related links:
China, Russia offer rival UN draft on N. Korea (Reuter),
朝鲜射导弹,中国成了替罪羊?(Washington Observer),
朝鲜半岛前景 (weizhou)
凤凰卫视揭密:志愿军为什么撤出朝鲜(Pheonix TV interview)
'Hyperpuissance,' a Myth in N. Korea - ASIAN SECURITY MONITOR
The China-North Korea Relationship (Adam Segal answers FAQ) - Esther Pan, Council of Foreign Relations

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