China Should Come Off the Fence

      May 28, 2010 13:05

      The Global Times published by China's state-run People's Daily in an editorial Wednesday wrote, "The Cheonan's sinking is a tragedy that claimed the lives of 46 sailors. It is without any doubt that the causes of the tragedy must be identified and released to the public, and those responsible must apologize. As North Korea has denied the accusation it torpedoed the Cheonan, it is time for Pyongyang to convince a skeptical world with solid evidence."

      The newspaper said the "overwhelming" evidence presented by South Korea had gained the full support of the U.S. and Japan and has dominated world opinion on the issue. "As a country suffering from deteriorating international credibility, a careful presentation of solid evidence against the accusation is the only option it has to persuade the world of its truthfulness," it said. "North Korea has merely thrown in strong verbiage along with the threat of an 'all-out war.' Its reaction will by no means help Pyongyang get out of the current predicament."

      The Global Times is a state-run organ. Although the newspaper's contents cannot be construed as being the official stance of the Chinese government, the editorial does reflect the unease felt by Beijing about North Korea.

      AP quoted a high-ranking Chinese government official as saying, "China will soon join international criticism regarding North Korea's attack on the Cheonan" and that there is a chance that Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao could present this changed attitude when he arrives in Seoul on Friday. CNN also reported that China plans to deliver its official position this weekend. The reports came after U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton met with top Chinese officials including President Hu Jintao in Beijing earlier this week.

      China has been in a bind following the announcement of multinational findings in the sinking of the Cheonan. International media have mentioned the need for Beijing to play a "responsible role" as a global superpower. It was North Korea that sank the Cheonan, but China is the focus of attention and is getting a lot of international flak. If Beijing continues to side with Pyongyang, it could end up damaging its plans to strengthen its "soft power" diplomacy, which China has spent years cultivating.

      Wen meets with President Lee Myung-bak in Seoul on Friday and joins a trilateral summit with Lee and Japanese Prime Minister Yukio Hatoyama in Jeju over the weekend. China's Vice Foreign Minister Zhang Zhijun said on Wednesday, "We hope Premier Wen's visit to South Korea will offer the opportunity to strengthen strategic communication between the two sides and boost the level of trust so that the two countries can seek ways to jointly deal with regional and international issues."

      If that is China's aim, then the Chinese leader should announce a responsible position regarding the sinking of the Cheonan. China said it does not want tensions on the Korean Peninsula to escalate further. Wen should not repeat Beijing's ambiguous attitude, but voice an active position based on the results of the scientific and objective probe into the shipwreck.

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