China Power

Self-Defeating North Korea Policy

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China Power

Self-Defeating North Korea Policy

China’s North Korea policy is looking increasingly unhelpful for regional security—and also itself.

One of the areas of agreement trumpeted by the US and China after Hu Jintao’s visit to Washington last week was a joint statement that expressed concern over North Korea’s uranium enrichment programmes.

According to the statement:

‘Agreeing on the crucial importance of denuclearization of the Peninsula in order to preserve peace and stability in Northeast Asia, the United States and China reiterated the need for concrete and effective steps to achieve the goal of denuclearization and for full implementation of the other commitments made in the September 19, 2005 Joint Statement of the Six-Party Talks. In this context, the United States and China expressed concern regarding the DPRK’s claimed uranium enrichment program.  Both sides oppose all activities inconsistent with the 2005 Joint Statement and relevant international obligations and commitments.’

I’ve mentioned before how I felt China’s approach to Pyongyang risked encouraging North Korean bad behaviour, a theme also picked up by L. Gordon Flake in a guest entry here this month when he suggested that China’s reticence was now more akin to abetting Kim Jong-il’s recklessness.

Well, it’s also apparently a view shared by the International Crisis Group, which launched a report yesterday on China’s role in inter-Korean tensions. The full report (which contains a wealth of useful footnotes for context) can be downloaded here. I recommend taking a look at the whole thing if you have time.

The report notes that ultimately China is undermining not only regional security, but its own security as well through its refusal to take a firmer line over incidents like the sinking of the South Korean corvette the Cheonan last year. It notes, for example, that:

‘Diplomatic shielding of the North, particularly at the UN, has damaged (China’s) international image and weakened its standing as an honest broker in the Six-Party Talks, while encouraging risky conventional and nuclear initiatives by North Korea.’

It also notes that China’s response to the Cheonan and the shelling of Yeonpyeong Island in November has prompted South Korea and Japan to strengthen bilateral ties and also their military alliances with the United States, and to ‘consider expansion of their own missile defence systems, intensifying the risk of a regional arms race.’

Of course China’s more assertive posture over territorial disagreements in the past 12 months has also been a factor in pushing a number of countries in the region closer. But it’s clear that Beijing’s policy toward North Korea really doesn’t seem to be helping anyone—including itself.