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North Korea a smokescreen for China
Paul Lin
8/10/2003



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July 27 was the 50th anniversary of the signing of the armistice that ended the Korean War. In that three-year war, which became primarily a war between the US and China in its later stages, the US side suffered over 100,000 casualties.

Because World War II was still a recent memory at the time of the Korean War and anti-war sentiment was quite strong, the US government treated the war in a relatively low-key manner. There was unwillingness to discuss the war in its aftermath, and thus it became known as "the forgotten war." China's volunteer army assembled to "oppose the US and assist Korea" suffered losses many times greater than those of the US side, but life is cheap in China. Moreover much of the "cannon fodder" consisted of KMT soldiers taken prisoner by the communist troops in China's own civil war. Naturally Beijing cared even less about their loss. Thus, for decades China has boasted of how it defeated "the paper tiger of US imperialism." However, for Taiwan and South Korea as well as for the US and the rest of the world, this is a war that should not be forgotten.

This war blocked the communist camp's further expansion -- a fact of extraordinary importance. Otherwise, most places on earth would have fallen under the red flag, a disaster for humanity. On this point, we should thank the US and the then still vigorous UN. Without them, Taiwan and South Korea would have been lost. They would have experienced the famines that hit China and North Korea in the late 1950s and early 1960s. There wouldn't be four "little dragons" in Asia, nor would we see democratic societies choosing their own presidents by popular election in these countries. But some people in Taiwan castigate their government for "kissing up to" the US, and in Korea there are also people with virulently anti-US sentiments. US citizens sacrificed their lives for these people. What did they get in return? Is business not for the benefit of all parties involved? Would Taiwan and South Korea now be "dragons" if the US hadn't opened up more markets? Unfortunately, some of these ingrates have simply gone all the way and identified themselves with the enemy.

Nor should the US forget this war. It was a war between freedom and dictatorship, democracy and authoritarianism. The ultimate objective of the expansion of communism was the leader of the Western nations, the US itself. Today, the Soviet Union has disintegrated, and the former Soviet republics are gradually evolving into democratic nations. But China is not and does not intend to change its authoritarian system. They aren't even willing to change the name "Communist Party." Thus, as the US allies itself with Beijing in the fight against terrorism, it must never forget Beijing's basic nature. The differences between China and North Korea are merely conflicts of interest between communist countries. For the sake of its own interests, Beijing will sacrifice some of North Korea's interests when necessary, but a corresponding price must be paid. When China was opposing the US and assisting Korea, it lost the opportunity to "liberate" Taiwan. Today, they are planning to feign the sacrifice of North Korea in exchange for the US abandonment of Taiwan. Politicians in the US must be wary of this and avoid letting the US be labelled a "fair-weather friend" because Taiwan is a democratic nation and not a dictatorship along the lines of Vietnam or Indonesia in years past.

Recently, North Korea agreed to multilateral talks with the US, China, Japan and South Korea on the problem of its nuclear weapons, but this should not be seen as a result of pressure being applied by China. In reality, North Korea has drawn in Russia and Japan in order to bargain with China. In the past, North Korea often walked a path between China and Russia, trying to win benefits from both sides. Now they are up to their old tricks once again. It's just that they have expanded their playing field.

Moreover, the fact that China is not terribly sincere about helping the US resolve the North Korean problem can also be seen from the following facts. We know the US has wanted all along to discuss the North Korean problem in the UN where greater pressure could be applied and where such discussion could be seen as a continuation of the UN's deployment of troops to the Korean Peninsula and the subsequent armistice. This is the most "legal" approach. If North Korea were to break its promises in the future, it would also be more convenient for the UN to step forward and impose sanctions. But as a permanent member of the UN Security Council, China has consistently opposed this approach for its own private reasons. On July 29 of this year, however, when the UN Security Council committee responsible for sanctions against the Taliban and al-Qaeda was holding an open meeting, China's deputy permanent representative to the UN, Zhang Yishan, made a statement saying that last year the committee had listed the East Turkestan Islamic Movement among those groups against which sanctions would be imposed, and that the Chinese government hoped to list other terrorist organizations in East Turkestan on the same roster as well. At present, the anti-terrorist focus of the US and the rest of the world is on North Korea, but Beijing is most interested in dealing with separatist organizations at home. They itch to cast each and every one of them as a terrorist group. Isn't the true nature of Beijing's approach to fighting terrorism not perfectly clear?

Paul Lin is a political commentator based in New York.


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