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China not helping with Pyongyang
With the US tense as it prepares for war on Iraq, North Korea, one of the countries of the Bush administration's "axis of evil," has taken the opportunity to stir up trouble for it, creating further tension.
In addition to starting up its nuclear reactors, it has expelled UN inspectors and is withdrawing from the nuclear non-proliferation treaty. It is also creating war hysteria, saying that it will deal with the US with "human bombs." The reason for this is the softening attitude of the US, which has expressed willingness to talk to Pyongyang and continue econo-mic aid. Although US Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld has said that the US is capable of fighting a war on two fronts, some experts have expressed their doubts, making North Korea all the more boisterous.
One sign of a hooligan is that he bullies the weak and fears the tough. The same principle applies to hooligan nations, not only North Korea, but also China. When the US bombed the Chinese embassy in Belgrade, then US president Bill Clinton called Chinese President Jiang Zemin, but Jiang refused to take the call. Clinton apologized six times, but Jiang refused to accept the apology.
When George W. Bush became president, he adopted a tougher stance and Jiang immediately took a respectful bow, started flattering Bush and never mentioned the embassy bombing. This is how China behaves and its "son" -- North Korea -- has learned the lesson well.
There is, of course, a reason for the softening of the US' attitude. Let's assume that the US can support war on two fronts -- if time drags on, losses will increase a little. What is more important, however, is whether China will go fishing in troubled waters and force the US into war on three fronts, adding the Taiwan Strait. Although the risk at the moment is small, the US has to plan for the worst-case scenario. This is why the US has to take a more measured approach to North Korea.
The best approach for the US is to minimize direct contact with Pyongyang, pushing China to the forefront and letting her handle North Korea. This would avoid direct conflict between Washington and Pyongyang at this time, allowing the US time to solve the Iraqi problem. It would also force China to take an official stance in the war on terror. This is the reason Bush called Jiang and asked him to step forward.
Jiang, however, is cunning, and although Beijing has come forward, it remains the third party, providing a location for North Korea and the US to hold negotiations. Since the US thus far is only willing to talk, but not negotiate, with North Korea, China is playing the good guy while placing North Korea on a par with the US and diminishing the status of South Korea.
If we look at this conspiracy, Beijing is definitely no third party. Over the past half century, China has been the greatest supporter of North Korea and that is why Beijing cannot let Pyongyang slip away. If China cannot control North Korea, the US might as well let Japan and South Korea develop nuclear weapons.
North Korea is only engaging in nuclear blackmail in an attempt to win more political and economic benefits from the US. We can, of course, not exclude the possibility that Pyongyang has other plans as well, such as causing trouble for the US-China relationship, thus winning some benefits from China as well. All in all, however, there is no way North Korea will dare start a war without support from China.
North Korea drummed up a "liberation war" atmosphere in 1975. Former US president Richard Nixon had just resigned as a result of the Watergate scandal and had been succeeded by Gerald Ford. Shouts of "Go south" were heard from North Korea.
When travelling by train from Shanghai to Beijing in April 1975, I had to wait at a small train station in Shandong Province while a three-car train belonging to the late Mao Zedong passed. I knew someone important was going to Beijing to meet with Mao.
Sure enough, a few days later, the newspapers reported that North Korea's "Dear Leader" Kim Il-sung had visited China. Mao had not supported the idea of a war because China was being turned upside down by the Cultural Revolution. There was also the threat of Soviet revisionism,and relations with the US had just been mended. Maybe Kim had no real intention of starting a war and was just trying to blackmail China.
The biggest problem with the situation on the Korean Peninsula is that Seoul is being friendly with Pyongyang while distancing itself from the US. This is to a certain extent what is happening in Taiwan, only it is more incomprehensible. Maybe the US should withdraw its soldiers and give South Korea a lesson in what it would be like to be "unified" by the North. South Koreans shed no tears so long as they don't see any coffins, but when they begin seeing coffins, it may already be too late. Luckily, president-elect Roh Moo-hyun is a bit more clear-headed.
*Paul Lin is a New York-based political commentator.
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