Friday, May 28, 2010

The Korean Crisis - While China Stands By

Image: North Korean Missile Pad

There is only one country with any chance of getting through to North Korea. That is China, the North’s major supplier of aid, food and oil. As tensions on the Korean Peninsula continue to spiral — frighteningly — upward, China is refusing to get involved.

China has only one concern: avoiding any crisis that might unleash huge refugee flows. If it believes that the status quo is conducive to stability, it is mistaken.
Relations between the Koreas have threatened to explode since last week when the South accused the North of torpedoing a South Korean warship, the Cheonan. It offered compelling forensic evidence of the North’s role in the March attack, which killed 46 South Korean sailors.

What makes this so especially dangerous is that North Korea’s erratic leader, Kim Jong-il, is in a power struggle to ensure that his youngest son succeeds him. (American intelligence officials suspect Mr. Kim may have ordered the attack to prove his willingness to take on South Korea and its Western allies.)

North Korea often blusters, but it has gone much further this time. Over the last few days, it has cut almost all ties and agreements with the South and threatened war if Seoul proceeds with threatened sanctions. On Thursday, it severed a naval hot line that was supposed to prevent clashes in disputed waters.

Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton tried hard this week to convince Chinese leaders of North Korea’s culpability — and of the need for Beijing to press the North to accept responsibility. There is no doubt about the North’s involvement. An international team investigated the incident, and South Korea has produced a torpedo propeller with North Korean markings.

China needs to stop covering for its client and join in a United Nations Security Council statement that condemns the North’s behavior. Privately, Beijing should make clear to North Korea that any future acts of aggression will result in a cut off of aid. The United States, South Korea and Japan, which have taken a strong stand against the North, also must leave some room for Pyongyang to back down.

The two Koreas — which have never formally ended their war — need to finally set a demarcation line in the West Sea where the Cheonan was attacked and sank. China could do real good if it worked with the United States to bring the two Koreas to the negotiating table.
Editorial International Herald Tribune and New York Times

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