June 29, 2010 12:45
U.S. President Barack Obama stepped up pressure on China during the G20 Summit in Toronto, urging Beijing to join international efforts to hold North Korea accountable for the sinking of the South Korean Navy corvette Cheonan. "And my hope is that President Hu [Jintao] will recognize as well that this is an example of Pyongyang going over the line in ways that just have to be spoken about seriously," Obama said. "I think there's a difference between restraint and willful blindness to consistent problems."
He said this is a situation "in which you have a belligerent nation that engaged in provocative and deadly acts against the other." The U.S. president said he was "very blunt" during his meeting with Hu on Saturday.
"I think it is a bad habit that we need to break to try to shy away from ugly facts with respect to North Korea's behavior in the interests of -- or under the illusion that that will somehow help to maintain the peace," Obama said. "Our main focus right now is in the UN Security Council making sure that there is a crystal-clear acknowledgement that North Korea engaged in belligerent behavior that is unacceptable to the international community." It is rare to see the U.S. president to openly pressure his Chinese counterpart using such blunt words.
In a separate meeting Hu told President Lee Myung-bak, "I fully understand South Korea's position," adding that Beijing is opposed to any acts that destroy peace and stability on the Korean Peninsula. But Chinese leaders have avoided pointing the finger at who is destroying peace and stability. Chinese leaders have also failed to say whether they support or question the results of a multinational investigation into the sinking of the Cheonan.
When South Korea and the U.S. announced joint military exercises to deter further provocations by North Korea following the Cheonan attack, China lodged a strong protest, calling the idea a "Cold War concept." It is said to feel the same way about the decision by the South Korean and U.S. governments to delay the transfer of full operational control of South Korean troops to Seoul. The postponement entails the retention of the South Korea-U.S. Combined Forces Command until 2015.
If China had boosted international condemnation of the sinking, the security situation on the peninsula would have been markedly different. A firm stance by Beijing could have even improved stability. In other words, China is also responsible for bringing the Cold War atmosphere back to the region. North Korea said Monday that the country is right in its choice to develop nuclear weapons to counter what it views as a nuclear threat from the U.S.
As long as China insists on standing by North Korea, which continues to produce nuclear weapons and attack South Korea, the South has no choice but to consider other options. If China continues to take the short-sighted approach of rallying behind a belligerent North Korea, Asian countries and the international community will grow increasingly suspicious of Beijing's role on the global stage.
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