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Pressing Beijing on North Korea
Paul Lin
3/10/2003



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`The most despicable people in this situation are those South Koreans who fear the North Korean military but fervently seek reunification and treat the US as an enemy. Such people will not face reality until it is far too late, and they exist in Taiwan, too.'

Recently I have seen a number of articles and reports analyzing differences between North Korea and China. Some seem to indicate that because of these differences, or perhaps even because North Korea is blackmailing China, China is unable to help the US restrain Pyongyang.

True, China and North Korea have their differences, but these are between a major rogue and a minor one and have no bearing on their common cause against the US. Neglecting this point will lead to a disastrous strategic mistake.

The emphasis on their differences is in part due to seeing only harmony between North Korea and China in the past, but then going to the opposite extreme when conditions changed. However, even during the honeymoon period of the Korean War, there were many differences between Beijing and Pyonyang. It's just that they were treated as state secrets and covered up.

What must not be overlooked is that Beijing is deliberately sending out these messages to let itself off the hook. Meanwhile, behind the scenes, they are turning a blind eye to North Korean extortion of the US and disrupting US military preparations aimed at Iraq.

Anything that saps US strength and isolates the US diplomatically is a victory for China and North Korea. If the US is prompted to provide more aid to North Korea and to accept conditions raised by Beijing that amount to selling out Taiwan, then Beijing will enjoy an even greater victory.

Although Beijing has repeatedly assured the US of its support in fighting terrorism, North Korea -- a nation closer to China than any other -- has been showing its evil face more and more blatantly. In the past two months, they have done everything from withdrawing from the nuclear non-proliferation treaty, starting up a mothballed nuclear reactor, indulging in clownlike provocations in the Demilitarized Zone and invading South Korean airspace with their MiG-19 fighter aircraft.

Most recently, while US Secretary of State Colin Powell was visiting Beijing, they tested a Chinese-made Silkworm missile by firing it into the Sea of Japan and thereby rattled financial markets around the globe.

Without the support of a strong backer like China, it is hard to imagine North Korea would dare act this way because, after all, it would certainly be destroyed in another Korean War. Similarly, without Chinese economic aid (which currently accounts for about 80 percent of all foreign aid to North Korea), especially grain and the oil necessary for war, they couldn't maintain a minimum standard of living for their people or a standing army of 1.1 million men, nearly 5 percent of the country's population.

Since the US is busy dealing with affairs in the Middle East, it has resumed providing food aid to North Korea, and Pyongyang is milking the situation for all it can get. Unfortunately, repeated US requests for China to put pressure on North Korea have been perceived by Beijing as weakness, and Beijing has thus smugly raised the ante even higher. Naturally North Korea has also become more and more unruly. This is nothing but the rogue's tendency to bully the weak and fear the strong.

Is China powerless to reign in North Korea? Of course not. Recently The Washington Post reported that according to a Chinese source, the key reason Powell was unable to reach any tangible agreements about Iraq or North Korea during his trip to Beijing was that China wants to see if the US is willing to show more flexibility on the Taiwan issue.

Clearly, Beijing wants to wring concessions from the US before it will put pressure on North Korea. In the words of Mencius, "it's not that they can't, but rather that they won't."

Taiwan is hardly the only issue standing between China and the US. The real problem is opposing value systems. China's differences with North Korea are "internal differences." Only those with the US are real "hostile differences." North Korea couldn't possibly subvert Beijing's authority. Even if their differences grew to the point where military conflict broke out, as in the case of Vietnam, only common people and low ranking soldiers would meet death or disaster.

But if the US values of freedom and democracy subverted Beijing's authority, Chinese Communist Party leaders would lose their special privileges, and there would be an accounting of their blood debts and past corruption. In all the decades of communist rule, the "first revolutionary priority" of distinguishing between friends and foes has never been forgotten.

Thus, when confronted with the recent missile test by North Korea, the US remained very cool. But Washington did say that it is very difficult to deal with Beijing and then was quick to announce that Mary Tighe, director of the Asian and Pacific Affairs Office of the US Department of Defense's international affairs section, will visit Taiwan this month to discuss missile defense and related matters. US officials pointed out that Tighe will be the highest-ranking US security-affairs official to visit Taipei since the two nations broke off diplomatic relations.

President Chen Shui-bian also pointed out that Taiwan, South Korea and Japan should all actively work on a response strategy because the peace and security of Northeast Asia will ultimately have to be maintained by the region itself.

In other words, military strength will have to be bolstered to counter terrorism from rogue states. This is the best response for dealing with bullies.

As long as the US takes a hard line and strengthens military cooperation with Taiwan, Beijing will try once again to win US favor and sow discord between Washington and Taipei.

The most despicable people in this situation are those South Koreans who fear the North Korean military but fervently seek reunification and treat the US as an enemy. Such people will not face reality until it is far too late, and they exist in Taiwan, too.

* Paul Lin is a political commentator based in New York.


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