December 10, 2010 13:21
China has seen its status as a world economic power consolidated and is expected to overtake Japan as the world's second largest economy, but its position on the international stage appears ever less secure. Beijing blatantly lobbied other countries not to attend the award of the Nobel Peace Prize to Chinese human rights activist Liu Xiaobo and flexed its military muscle in maritime territorial disputes with other countries. That has made people see China as a less than mature and responsible member of the international community.
One of the chief problems is China's protection of North Korea. U.S. President Barack Obama telephoned Chinese President Hu Jintao and urged him to join the U.S. in sending a "clear message" to North Korea that any provocation cannot be tolerated following Pyongyang's attack against the South Korean Navy corvette Cheonan and the artillery shelling of Yeonpyeong Island. Many countries rallied around South Korea after those attacks, and now even Russia is saying that China should play its part.
Yet China's Ambassador to Japan Cheng Yonghua in an interview with Japan's Asahi Shimbun on Thursday said Beijing rejects attempts to press China whenever something happens in North Korea. "When they have anything to demand of the North, they should hold direct dialogue with the country," Cheng added. A major general in China's People's Liberation Army, also expressed unhappiness over the comment by Gen. Burwell Bell, the former commander of the U.S. Forces Korea, in a lecture on Dec. 3 that the Chinese economy "will fall back to 100 years ago" if it takes part in another war on the Korean Peninsula. He grumbled that if China falls back 100 years, the U.S. would fall back 200 years.
Some experts attribute the Chinese reaction to its anger at the joint South Korea-U.S. military exercises taking place in the West Sea, which it appears to regard as its doorstep. But if China got North Korea to acknowledge its role in the sinking of the Cheonan and attack on Yeonpyeong Island and warned Pyongyang not to repeat such behavior, the situation would not have worsened to this point. Beijing is refusing to take responsibility for the behavior of what is essentially a client state while getting all riled up over the threat of escalation on the Korean Peninsula.
It also keeps calling for the resumption of six-party nuclear talks, which it has hosted for nearly seven years now without any results whatsoever. It is the only member of the talks that supplies North Korea with necessities such as oil and rice even as the North develops nuclear arms and missiles, but it continues to claim it does not interfere in internal affairs of other countries.
If North Korean nuclear weapons fall into the hands of terrorist groups, the U.S. could be the initial target, but the next target might very well be China, where tensions with ethnic minorities continue to simmer. Yet Beijing continues to treat the North Korean problem from the perspective of a cold-war rivalry with the U.S. over control of the Asia-Pacific region.
If China continues to shelter North Korea and walk down its isolated path, its global diplomatic efforts will fail. It would be proper for China to tell North Korea through State Councilor Dai Bingguo, who is visiting Pyongyang, that it can no longer offer protection since doing so would only damage China's national as well as global interests.
- Copyright © Chosunilbo & Chosun.com