June 05, 2009 10:50
China and North Korea have been criticizing each other in strong language since the North tested another nuclear device. The spat intensified since North Korea on May 29 condemned China and Russia, which are discussing sanctions against the Stalinist country in the UN Security Council, for being "sycophants" to the United States.
Top Chinese officials, usually known for their extreme caution, have changed their tune. Vice President Xi Jinping and Defense Minister Liang Guanglie have clearly protested against the nuclear test, though it is uncertain whether that will translate into actual change in bilateral relations. Observers say Beijing will not give up on its strategic alliance with North Korea, which acts as a cushion between China and the United States.
But China has a powerful negotiating card. If it shuts down Dandong, the trade center between the two countries, North Korea will immediately suffer a shortage of food and fuel. But the problem for China is that this would be a point of no return. China has reportedly told the Korean government through diplomatic channels that it will not resort to extreme measures such as cutting off humanitarian aid to solve the current problem. "It is likely that China will search for ways to bring North Korea back to the six-party talks and closely observe the discussion in the UN Security Council for now," a diplomat in Beijing said.
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