Chinese officials on Tuesday reiterated their objection to a joint military exercise between the United States and South Korea, which is expected to take place later this month.
Earlier this month, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Qin Gang said China had expressed ‘serious concern’ over the naval drill, which was scheduled to begin in the Yellow Sea off the west coast of South Korea. Perhaps out of consideration of the protest, Seoul and Washington have reportedly agreed to begin the exercises, which will include the aircraft carrier the USS George Washington, in the Sea of Japan (off South Korea’s east coast) before moving to the Yellow Sea.
The drills were announced after South Korea announced the results of its investigation into the sinking of the Cheonan warship in March, which found that the ship had been torpedoed by a North Korean submarine.
At a press briefing last week, Qin explained China’s opposition to the drill, saying China ‘resolutely opposes foreign warships and fighter jets entering, and flying over, the (West) Sea and adjacent waters and engaging in activities that affect China's security interest.’
Of course Chinese officials wouldn’t dream of telling South Korea what it can and can’t do as this would amount to meddling in a country’s internal affairs. So instead, it just defines its own interests as broadly as necessary (ask Vietnam, which has been the victim of a unilateral fishing ban imposed by China in waters popular with Vietnamese fishermen).
The problem with this, though, is that it looks particularly hypocritical in light of its own recent naval exercises near Japan, including in April when Japan’s Maritime Self-Defence Force reportedly spotted two submarines and eight destroyers sailing between Okinawa’s main island and the island of Miyako.
The presence of such a large convoy, and the alleged ‘buzzing’ by a Chinese helicopter from one of the vessels, which came within about 90 metres of a Japanese ship, prompted Japanese Defence Minister Toshimi Kitazawa to announce a detailed analysis was being undertaken, including over whether ‘there was any intent toward this country or not.’
But, seeing as China is in the mood to pass judgment on what other countries are doing that might ‘affect’ its security interests, why not put a little more pressure on North Korea over the way it’s treating its citizens. China has a clear in ensuring a stable North Korea—the last thing it wants is a large number of refugees trying to cross the border into China in the event that the North Korean regime does collapse.
Yet the dire state of the health system as reported today by Amnesty International is surely cause for concern about the prospects for at some kind of least social stability. In a truly awful investigation into the state of health care in North Korea, Amnesty reports that in some cases doctors have been performing amputations without anesthesia.
That said, one defector who was interviewed for the report suggested that things have been so bad for so long that unrest is unlikely as North Koreans are simply numbed to the state of their health care system. According to the report, she said:
‘(T)hings keep progressively getting worse, or even staying the same but at that low level…So when something else happens they're not quick to react and think, 'Oh, this is my entitlement.’