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Opinion

China's Hu can rightly ask Obama: What have you done for me lately?

Chinese President Hu and President Obama must work toward building mutual trust between the US and China when they meet in Washington Tuesday. But Obama must allay China's concerns on North Korea before the US can press China for more.

By Zhiqun Zhu / January 17, 2011



Lewisburg, Pa.

Chinese President Hu Jintao will begin his swan song visit to the United States on Jan. 18 before he steps down in 2012. High on the agenda of this visit will be North Korea and East Asian security. President Obama is likely to urge his Chinese counterpart to put more pressure on North Korean leader Kim Jong-il, who created one crisis after another last year.

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But China’s major concerns about the aftermath of the North Korean regime's expected collapse have to be taken seriously before the United States can successfully persuade China to be more cooperative on North Korea and other issues. Simply pressuring China to do more without considering its legitimate concerns is not only condescending but also counterproductive.

North Korean attack on South Korea: 8 provocations of the past decade

At the beginning of the new year, the two Koreas struck some conciliatory tones and were able to avoid a war that seemed so imminent just a few weeks ago. Western media cited China’s quiet diplomacy as a major cause of the encouraging restraint on the Korean Peninsula now. Still, the United States has high expectations of China, hoping that China will become a more active and responsible player to help terminate North Korea’s nuclear program and rein in its reckless dictator.

China thinks US doesn't care

A key obstacle to further US-China cooperation on North Korea is the lack of mutual trust between the two powers. US expectations of China notwithstanding, China does not have strong incentives to cooperate, largely because it believes that the United States does not seem to care about China’s interests and concerns.

ANOTHER VIEW: What Obama should tell China's President Hu: No, you can't

China is obviously not proud of being regarded as an ally of the Kim Jong-il regime. Within China, scholars and officials have been debating over how to deal with a recalcitrant North Korea that often embarrasses China. There is a growing voice within Chinese academia and the government that China should dump North Korea, since continuing to support Pyongyang hurts China’s international image and does not serve China’s long-term interest.

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