China needs to rethink its approach to Korean Peninsula nuclear issue

China will possibly make big changes in its policies toward North Korea after the latter’s fifth nuclear test, while the United States, South Korea and Japan will impose more sanctions against North Korea.

North Korea successfully conducted a nuclear warhead explosion test on September 9, its fifth nuclear test, North Korea’s Central Television and other international media reported, after its first nuclear test on October 9, 2006, second on May 25, 2009, third on February 12, 2013 and fourth on January 4, 2016.

North Korea’s Nuclear Weapons Institute said in a statement that the test was aimed at assessing the power of the nuclear warhead and its standards that fit the country’s strategic ballistic missiles.

I think that the US will cooperate with South Korea and Japan to impose more sanctions against North Korea at the United Nations Security Council, and will ask China and Russia for support. After the UN passes stricter sanctions, the US, South Korea and Japan will take extra measures. The three countries can establish a joint military mechanism against North Korea, which will be the basis for an alliance, a small NATO in East Asia. The US and South Korea might conduct anti-nuclear military drills, aiming to destroy North Korea’s nuclear capability and facilities. South Korea and Japan will improve their anti-missile capacity with the help from the US.

North Korea has conducted two nuclear tests this year and test fired different types of missiles frequently. North Korea has conducted more tests under the regime of Kim Jeong-eun compared to what his predecessors did in decades.

After the recent test, more people are worried that North Korea will dramatically improve its military capability. And North Korea has formally completed the development of technology for nuclear warheads plus missiles. The next step might see its actual deployment in a future.

This test might end neighboring China’s dream of exercising its influence and control over the Korean Peninsula, and undermine China’s attempt to separate South Korea and Japan.

The US, South Korea and Japan have the similar stance and will collaborate with the international community to face North Korea’s nuclear issue. The alliance of the three will guide the solution on the issue.

First, the test has shattered China’s dream of having influence over the peninsula. The nuclearization of the peninsula is not in line with China’s security interests, but Kim moved ahead with the test, and carried it out openly and cynically, which proves that Kim does not care about China’s interests.

The test demonstrates that China has weak control power over North Korea, and especially the two nuclear tests this year also make it difficult for China to prove it has influence on the peninsula.

Seen from this perspective, South Korea will not expect China to have any control over the North on the nuclear issue, and China thus will lose a leverage in the dialogue with South Korea over the deployment of the THAAD system.

After China loses its role in the security domain, it would just be a market to South Korea. I think South Koreans will not want to lose the market, but anyway, their clothes and other commodities still have other markets.

China will become insignificant on the peninsula, after losing its influence in both North Korea and South Korea. Which means China has to rethink South Korea’s position.

Second, the test blows up China’s efforts to separate South Korea and Japan. Because of the history and territorial disputes, South Korea and Japan have deep contradictions, though they both are US allies. The US has tried to narrow their gaps, but with little effect.

In the first three years of the presidency, Park Geun-hye has not held any talks with Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe. She did not even shake hands with Abe after US President Barrack Obama pulled them together.

Compared with the tense relationship between South Korea and Japan, South Korea and China have enjoyed a honeymoon period. But since South Korea decided to deploy the THAAD system, the relationship between China and South Korea has cooled down.

In the meantime, Japan has made a compromise on the comfort woman issue and also reached an aid agreement with South Korea. Their relationship is improving.

After the recent North Korea nuclear test, Park talked with the US and Japan leaders, and South Korean foreign minister also communicated with his counterparts from the two countries.

The US, South Korea and Japan are forging closer ties, which China doesn’t like but can not prevent from happening.  

Third, the nuclear test jeopardizes the future of Kim’s regime. Kim has walked faster and further on nuclearization, and the ultimate solution will come sooner.

It is predictable that the UN will pass sanctions against North Korea. The new sanctions will be stricter and cover more fields, and China and Russia will also support.

The new sanctions will target limiting North Korea’s ability to develop nuclear weapons, banning North Korea’s imports of nuclear materials and facilities and closing its international trade and financial transactions. North Korea’s commercial ships and planes will also be forbidden to leave the country.

Except for the humanitarian aid, North Korea will not receive any other materials from outside. Of course, the precondition is that China and Russia really support it.

Anyway, North Korea will face a difficult situation. But if no other accident happened (such as North Korea taking provocative action), the Kim regime will last for a period because there is no alternative power in the country.

But in a situation in which the US, South Korea and Japan have the same stance to cooperate with international community to tackle the nuclear issue, the US-led alliance will find a solution.

After the recent nuclear test, China will change its policies toward North Korea. First, China might denounce the Treaty of Friendly Cooperation and Mutual Assistance, or at least freezing the treaty. Second, China will treat its relationship with North Korea as a normal country, and will cooperate with the international community to sanction North Korea within the UN framework. Third, China will actively cooperate with Russia to negotiate with the US, South Korea and Japan to establish a joint mechanism to tackle the issue, prohibiting the nuclear proliferation on the peninsula and avoiding a possible large-scale war. Fourth, China should actively restrain North Korea’s behavior, and take part in the process of the peninsula’s change to avoid being marginalized by the United States, South Korea and Japan.

Guo Shaoying is chief editor of Northeast Asia Commerce and commentator on international matters.

(Opinions expressed in the article don't represent those of the



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