Chinese Vagueness About Korean Issues Hampers Communication

      December 24, 2010 11:40

      Jiang Yu /AP

      China's reluctance to call a spade a spade in matters concerning the Korean Peninsula, apparently prompted by a desire to cover for North Korea at all costs, is making communication with the emerging superpower practically impossible, diplomats complain.

      They point to a near-hysterical avoidance in official Chinese statements of proper nouns associated with North Korean attacks on the South. Few statements by the Chinese government on the sinking of the Navy corvette Cheonan in March or the artillery attack on Yeonpyeong Island referred to the incidents directly, and in the UN Security Council Beijing resisted mention of the island.

      Chinese State Councilor Dai Bingguo, ahead of a visit to the North after the Yeonpyeong attack, did not once utter the name of the island when he met President Lee Myung-bak on Nov. 28. Instead, he repeatedly called for "restraint."

      When he met North Korean leader Kim Jong-il on Dec. 9, Dai reportedly did the same. China's official media reported the two had "a profound conversation about the situation on the Korean Peninsula" but made no mention of Yeonpyeong Island.

      Proposing an urgent meeting of chief negotiators of six-party nuclear talks last month, Wu Dawei, the Chinese special representative on the Korean Peninsula affairs, called the attack a "current matter of major concern."

      Asked Thursday about her opinion one month since the Yeonpyeong attack, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Jiang Yu only said, "The current situation on the Korean Peninsula still remains complicated and sensitive."

      "Without using the keywords 'attack' and 'Yeonpyeong,' how can they hope to engage in dialogue or deliver any message?" a South Korean diplomat complained.

      The UN Security Council discussed the Yeonpyeong attack last Sunday but failed to adopt a statement because China insisted that it must not contain the words "North Korea," "Yeonpyeong," or "denounce."

      During the UNSC's earlier discussion of the sinking of the Cheonan, China insisted the key phrase "an attack by North Korea" be deleted, which led to a statement that failed to specify the attacker.

      After the Cheonan sank, Chinese spokesmen occasionally used the ship's name but in most cases referred only to "this incident" or "a major incident." In a first reaction to the sinking, which killed 46 South Korean sailors, China called it "a tragic incident."

      Instead, Chinese official trod out a mantra of terminology like "patience," "broadminded viewpoint" and "cool-headedness and restraint."

      When a South Korean government official asked China to join efforts to denounce the North's attack on the Cheonan, Wu Dawei said, "South Korea will realize later that China's call for patience is right from a broadminded point of view."

      When the UNSC discussed the sinking of the Cheonan, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Qin Gang said, "We hope that the countries concerned will maintain cool-headedness and restraint from a broadminded standpoint of protecting peace and stability on the Korean Peninsula."

      He did not specify which countries he was talking about or clearly state whether China supported or opposed the UNSC response, rendering the discussion meaningless.

      Diplomats say this makes it well-nigh impossible to communicate with their Chinese counterparts. "We're often frustrated because Chinese diplomats deliver moral lectures when they're supposed to talk about pending issues," a diplomat said.

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