A senior Chinese government official has for the first time hinted that Beijing believes North Korea was responsible for the sinking of the South Korean Navy corvette Cheonan. Just after North Korean leader Kim Jong-il wrapped up his visit to China, Xu Jialu, vice chairman of the Standing Committee of the National People's Congress, was quoted by participants at a leaders' forum in Seoul as saying in a speech Tuesday, "Even China is concerned about North Korea's Cheonan incident and is well aware of the fact that it hinders peace and stability on the Korean peninsula." "We mean this sincerely," they quoted him as adding.
Prof. Ahn In-hae of Korea University, who attended the forum at the Millennium Hilton in Seoul, said he took the phrase "North Korea's Cheonan incident" to mean "an incident committed by North Korea.'" After the address, Ahn asked Xu, "Do your comments mean that China acknowledges North Korea's role in the Cheonan incident?" But Xu neither confirmed nor denied the question, apparently mindful of the diplomatic repercussions.
At the forum, which marked the 18th anniversary of diplomatic ties between South Korea and China, Xu said, "If a problem arises on the Korean Peninsula, neighboring China will also be affected." China's stance is that the six-party talks on North Korea's nuclear program "must resume to resolve heightened tensions triggered by the Cheonan incident, and that a peace treaty must be signed to ensure peace and denuclearization of the peninsula."
Some participants at the forum voiced concerns that the Lee Myung-bak administration's strengthened alliance with the U.S. is being seen as a move to restrain China's rising power.
"Considering that the Korean Peninsula remains divided and surrounded by major powers, China has understood the importance of the Seoul-Washington alliance and did not perceive it as hindering South Korea-China relations," said Qi Baoliang, a North Korean specialist at the China Institute of Contemporary International Relations. "But recently, the South Korean government has bolstered its alliance with the U.S. and appeared as if it was trying to restrain China." The institute is the largest diplomatic think tank in the country and is affiliated with China's State Council.