With North Korea’s third nuclear test, one of the world’s most vexing problems has taken a turn that presents Chinese diplomacy with perhaps its greatest challenge in a generation. This editorial from China’s state-run Huanqiu offers a glimpse into the debate in Beijing about how to ‘penalize’ Pyongyang, and whether now is the time to take part in sanctions being imposed on North Korea by the U.S., Japan and South Korea.
The Huanqiu editorial starts out this way:
The United States, Japan, South Korea and Europe have issued strong signals that they will impose severe sanctions against the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea. Meanwhile, the DPRK may accelerate the process of nuclear miniaturization and so equip its troops, Japan will follow suit with U.S. backing, and Europe will assist. For China, however thankless, involvement will be impossible to avoid.
Washington, Tokyo and Seoul are anxious to see China change its policy toward North Korea, and continue to apply pressure to that end. Because Pyongyang’s nuclear activities undermine China’s interests, it is necessary for it to impose certain “penalties.” The key issue for China is to decide what the extent of such penalties will be.
North Korea is determined to possess nuclear technology. During the years of Six-Party Talks, the United States, Japan, along with South and North Korea, failed to seize the opportunity to achieve a genuine easing of relations among themselves. The issue has passed a critical juncture. The confrontation between North Korea and the United States was so sharp, neither the U.S., North Korea or the others are likely to return to them. North Korea has a “fight to the death” mentality when it comes to its efforts to build nuclear weapons.
Even if China fully backs sanctions being proposed by the U.S., Japan and South Korea, the denuclearization of North Korea is unlikely to be achieved. And if Beijing alters its position toward Pyongyang too rapidly, it would become the central variable and focus of attention in the entire situation. This must be avoided. This is very much in the interests of the United States, Japan, and South Korea. And at least for a time, China would become North Korea’s leading adversary.
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