Middle Kingdom? Or Hermit?


Reuters reports that South Korean President Lee Myung-bak has ruled out giving any handouts to entice North Korea to a summit in the middle of this year, for what would be only the third such meeting between the two technically at war nations.

He’s absolutely right to do so – there’s no point in having a meeting for meetings sake, especially if it helps perpetuate Pyongyang’s habit of expecting to be rewarded simply for doing something it has already agreed to do.

What will be interesting to see now is whether China will be inclined to exert pressure on North Korea to return to Six-Party talks now that the United States has started to push back against Beijing.

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The Council on Foreign relations’ Leslie Gelb warns in an op-ed in the Daily Beast that there could be repercussions from the recently announced US arms sale to Taiwan, arguing that the move will make it harder to gain their assistance in cajoling both Pyongyang and Iran over their nuclear programmes.

Gelb is probably right on this, though I think he’s way off the mark in laying so much of the blame on the Obama administration. To suggest that it is the US that is being provocative when it has taken what are in reality small steps to support an ally that currently has hundreds of missiles pointed directly at it (a balance of power that has shifted dramatically in China’s favour in recent years) seems an oddly blinkered way of looking at the situation.

But setting aside the arms sale, China has over the past 12 months consistently tried to belittle the Obama administration through various diplomatic snubs, including as it almost singlehandedly scuttled an effective climate change agreement in Copenhagen.

China went to some lengths around the Beijing Olympics to indicate that it wanted to be a responsible stakeholder in the international community. So it’s curious now why it seems so intent to thumb its nose at an administration that has more than met it halfway. Indeed, lately it seems to be taking a leaf out of the book of its stroppy neighbour in the Hermit Kingdom.

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