North Korea hostility toward the South puts China in a spot
Secretary of State Hillary Clinton goes to South Korea Wednesday. But Friday's visit to Seoul by China's premier may do more to determine whether tensions keep rising between North Korea and South Korea.
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“While most understand China’s dilemma, many see Beijing’s ‘muddle through’ strategy as a disappointing symbol of its inability to play a leadership role in East Asia commensurate with its rise,” says Victor Cha, who holds the Korea chair at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington.Skip to next paragraph
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“China’s behavior thus far regarding the Cheonan has been clumsy, weak, and anachronistic,” says Mr. Cha, in a posting on the CSIS website. This “inability to make hard choices” is reflective of Beijing’s policy of treating the two Koreas as two separate issues – a policy Cha says is rupturing under the weight of the Cheonan crisis.
Clinton, who wrapped up two days of US-China strategic and economic dialogue in Beijing Tuesday, put a positive spin on the Chinese government’s response so far to the Korean crisis – reflecting US hopes of winning Chinese support for Security Council action down the road.
“The Chinese understand the gravity of this situation,” she said at a press conference following the dialogue’s close. “I think it is absolutely clear that China not only values but is very committed to regional stability,” she added, “and it shares with us the goal of a denuclearized Korean Peninsula and a period of careful consideration in order to determine the best way forward in dealing with North Korea as a result of this latest incident.”
Clinton also said, “We expect to be working together with China in responding to North Korea’s provocative action, and promoting stability in the region.” But the lack of any joint pronouncement on the issue suggests that Washington and Beijing remain far apart on what that response should be.
China in the end may go along with a multilateral expression of disapproval toward North Korea, Dr. Moltz, says, but it won’t be anything strong. “My guess is they will eventually agree to a very watered-down critical statement” from the Security Council, he says. “But the focus will be on regret for the incident, rather than any robust condemnation [of the North].”
He says the Chinese “don’t like how this [incident] seems like it has the tail wagging the dog.” But he says they like even less the prospect of unforeseen repercussions from any strong international action against the North.
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