2003 June 05 Thursday
Chinese Elites Still Split On North Korea Strategy

CNN Senior China Analyst Willy Wo-Lap Lam reports that China continues to hold back on pressuring North Korea over nuclear weapons development. While hawks in the People's Liberation Army (PLA) want to do more to help strengthen North Korean defenses liberal advisors to President Hu Jintao favor lining up with other countries to apply an economc squeeze to North Korea.

A group of hardliners even suggested that Beijing send ethnic-Korean PLA experts to North Korea so that the two countries' enhanced military ties would go undetected by the West.

More liberal advisers to Hu, however, have argued it is time Beijing ended the "lips-and-teeth relationship" with Pyongyang -- and worked closely together with the global community in squeezing the rogue regime.

Even if Hu wanted to go alone with his more liberal advisers on North Korea policy it is not clear that he has enough power to do so. Former President Jiang Zemin still holds some key positions and has many allies. The bottom line here is that China may continue to maintain the current policy of trading with North Korea and supplying it with enough aid to keep the Pyongyang regime in power. Given that North Korea's nuclear program is on-going China's position is effectively not so much in support of the status quo but instead in support of North Korea's eventual development of many nuclear weapons.

Lam has another report that shows just how much China continues to not see itself as a status quo power. China does not want to join the G8 club of industrialized countries because it wants to maintain image as an opponent of the status quo powers.

Moreover, while improving its ties to First World countries, Beijing is eager to maintain its position as a leader of Third World countries, particularly those in Africa and the Middle East.

Update: David M. Lampton, director of the Nixon Center's Chinese Studies program, sees signs that the Chinese leadership are rethinking their relationship with North Korea.

For the first time the Chinese apparently see that they could be the victims of proliferation. Further, nuclear proliferation around China's borders likely wouldn't stop with Pyongyang. It would spread to South Korea, then possibly Japan, and perhaps Taiwan. China would face nuclear regimes at all points of the compass.

The United States could play the "Taiwan card" with China by threatening to help Taiwan go nuclear if China doesn't help stop North Korea. Probably the US ought to avoid even mentioning that idea for now. But if China continues to support North Korea then US policymakers ought to consider that option. Still, the Chinese might come around for all the reasons Lampton outlines and so the US ought to avoid threatening China to get China to move on North Korea. Though if Taiwan was a nuclear power that would certainly make it easier for Taiwan to remain independent. So maybe after the North Korean regime falls the US ought to help Taiwan to go nuclear or look the other way while it figures out a way to do it on its own.

Share |      By Randall Parker at 2003 June 05 10:33 PM  Korea


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