WikiLeaks Cables Expose Seoul's Wishful Thinking About China

      December 02, 2010 12:32

      Diplomats are calling on China to abandon its blind support for North Korea following the North's artillery attack on Yeonpyeong Island. China also stood by North Korea after it sank the South Korean Navy corvette Cheonan in March.

      Until now, South Korea's diplomatic approach to China has been informed by a mixture of hope that Beijing would distance itself from North Korea by and by and understanding of the unique position of the Chinese government in dealing with the two Koreas.

      A woman in Schwerin, northeastern Germany, looks on the website of WikiLeaks on Tuesday while on the screen at right can be seen a photo of WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange. /AFP-Yonhap

      U.S. diplomatic cables unveiled by WikiLeaks clearly show how wishful the thinking of South Korean diplomats has been. Earlier this month, Chief Presidential Secretary for Foreign Affairs and Security Chun Young-woo met U.S. Ambassador Kathleen Stephens and quoted Chinese diplomats as saying that Beijing was ready to face the reality that North Korea has almost no value as a buffer country. He told Stephens that China "would be comfortable with a reunified Korea controlled by Seoul and anchored to the U.S. in a 'benign alliance' as long as Korea was not hostile towards China."

      But after the sinking of the Cheonan, China sided with North Korea, claiming there was no evidence directly pointing to the North. And when North Korea shelled Yeonpyeong Island killing two civilians, China merely called for "calm and restraint" from all sides. As the host of the stalled six-party nuclear disarmament talks, China refuses to acknowledge the existence of North Korea's vast uranium enrichment facilities, even though Pyongyang revealed them to U.S. officials.

      "Small differences were overlooked in the name of maintaining a cooperative relationship with China, but the uncomfortable truth was revealed in the Cheonan sinking and the shelling of Yeonpyeong Island," one diplomatic source said.

      Seoul also did not take issue with a diplomatic gaffe Beijing committed last Saturday by informing it of the visit of State Councilor Dai Bingguo only on the day he was to arrive in Seoul and demanding a meeting with President Lee Myung-bak at such short notice. Seoul has given China a lot of leeway since the two countries established diplomatic ties in 1992. Because it never took China to task for such high-handed behavior, it has become routine, critics say.

      "South Korea mistakenly thought it was displaying an understanding of China's situation when it was actually being humiliated," said one diplomatic source.

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