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ROK should stop counting on China to address DPRK nuclear issue

The Chinese character reads North Korea announces its planning on the third nuclear test. Photo:

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This following article is translated from a blog of Li Kaisheng(李开盛), a political scientist and associate professor of Xiangtan University.

With North Korea’s imminent third nuclear test (朝鲜第三次核试), especially interested countries like South Korea (韩国) are now counting on China to stand out and protest. The Joong-Ang Daily (中央日报) even thus titled one of its editorials “China is the key for solving North Korea nuclear issue”.    

This has long been South Korea's approach to address the DPRK nuclear issue, namely aligning itself with the USA on one hand and exerting diplomatic pressure on China on the other hand. South Korea has been pinning its hope on China to censure the DPRK for the shelling of Yeonpyeong Island.

If China failed to live up to the expectation, then grudges and resentments would thus grow. Although the sentiment could be understood, South Korea fails to recognize the crux of the issue by ignoring the real positions of China, and America in the issue. So, even if it counts on China more desperately, the result would not be constructive. 

About North Korea nuclear issue, it is generally considered that the DPRK stands on one side, the ROK and USA stand on the other side, while China acting as a coordinator between the two parties.

China, given its erstwhile friendship and current close tie with North Korea, is sometimes mistaken as North Korea’s ally, although the fact that, China has more interests in common with South Korea on the issue compared with the USA. 

Although China, the USA, and South Korea all propose dismantlement of Pyongyang's atomic facilities, China and South Korea really mean it while the USA is actually half-hearted. 

North Korea’s possession of nuclear weapons would inevitably leave the Korean peninsula on edge. Because China hopes for a peaceful international environment and stable surrounding environment to develop its country, war state on the Korean peninsula would definitely not be a good thing. As for South Korea which would be left targeted by the threat, it is the same case.

But for the USA, it is a coin with two sides. 

The disadvantage is atomic bombs may also pose a threat to American forces in South Korea and nuclear materials and technologies may become accessible to terrorists, while the good thing is a belligerent North Korea further justifies America’s military presence in east Asia and thus consolidate the alliance among America, Japan and South Korea.

That’s the reason why America applied perfunctory attitude toward conditions North Korea attached to its promises of relieving the tense situation and realizing normalized relations. 

Looking back to the history of the issue, you may find the USA and North Korea ‘worked together’ to exacerbate the situation. One wants war with the whole international community by developing nuclear weapons while the other aims to benefit from the tense state.

So, even if China is willing to go in punishing North Korea, the problem would still be there, unsolved. On the contrary, the USA should really begin to shoulder some responsibilities.   
Objectively, there are two ways for North Korea to dismantle its atomic facilities—one is ‘big stick’ and the other is ‘carrot’.

Big stick means for the whole international community to exert enough pressure on North Korea to push it choose between nuclear and survival, while carrot means to provide North Korea enough assistance to persuade it end the current war state. And China actually functions differently in the two ways.     

Although also included in the ‘big stick’ approaches, military striking is basically not considered by the interested countries. Now, the most-favored resorts are sanctions and cutting off supplies. China, as North Korea’s main provider of assistance, could work something out in the aspect. 

And South Korea always believes if China could squeeze the lifeline to Pyongyang, the issue would be thus solved. To be honest, the logic does make some sense. I myself have also long hoped China could take tougher stance toward North Korea when it’s the right time, to let it know, for developing nuclear weapons, there will be consequences. 

However, it is not wise to fully count on China. And there are two reasons. One, if China totally cut off the life line to Pyongyang, North Korea may snap and thus bring serious chaos to the Korean peninsula, then causing political, military and economic crises, which I believe, is also the last thing South Korea would want to see.

So, supply line could be used as a bargaining chip, but could not be squeezed unscrupulously. 

Two, North Korea nuclear issue is actually a resort for the country to deal with America. So, the point is America but not China. And whether America agrees to end war state and realize normalized relationship with North Korea is the crux of the issue.

More specifically, for North Korea to suspend its nuclear strides, ‘big stick’ may be helpful, but the ‘carrot’—reforming the out-dated security structure of cold war period may be more constructive. 

Would America agree to do it? Or would America be willing to let go of its selfish motive of consolidating military presence in East Asia? These are the real keys for solving North Korea nuclear issue.

As the ally of America, South Korea should really stop keeping an eye on China all the times, and begin to lobby America for it to shoulder due responsibilities.

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