Tuesday, June 22, 2010

China is key to nuclear conflict solution

“North Korea and China used to be as close as lips and teeth,” Korea Times writes in its May 7 editorial, describing the close relationship between China and North Korea.

The article noted the high anger and frustration of South Koreans at China, because Chinese President Hu Jintao had met North Korean leader Kim Jong-il in Beijing just a few days after President Hu received South Korean President Lee Myung-bak in Shanghai on April 30. However President Hu had not informed Lee about his planned meeting with the reclusive North Korean leader.

In an attempt to ease Seoul’s deep disappointment, Chinese Prime Minister Wen Jiabao visited South Korea on May 28. As reported by Reuters, PM Wen told his host, President Lee, that his country condemned any acts threatening stability on the Korean Peninsula and understood South Korean grief over the sinking of a naval ship, which Seoul had blamed on Pyongyang.

Wen also pointed out the prospect of expanded trade ties — a free trade agreement between China and South Korea is just a matter of time according to President Lee.
Indonesia also condemned the sinking of the South Korean ship, but like China it refrained from pointing fingers at the reclusive state.

Indonesia has ambition and confidence it can play a meaningful role in persuading the North to abandon its nuclear weapons development if it can get the trust from Kim.

But even Megawati Soekarnoputri — who has known Kim personally since both their fathers were close friends — could not do anything to change her friend’s position when she ruled Indonesia from July 2001 to September 2004.

From March to May this year, South Koreans mourned the death of 46 Korean sailors after their ship, the 1,200-ton Cheonan corvette, was torpedoed in the shallow West Sea off Bangnyeong Island, which is disputed by South and North Korea, on March 26. Seoul has officially accused Pyongyang of being fully responsible for the sinking of the patrol ship.

President Lee vowed to take firm measures against the reclusive neighbor. Pyongyang responded that it was ready for war if Seoul and its allies imposed new sanctions. Lee’s government has also brought the case to the United Nations Security Council.
The fatal patrol ship incident however was only the tip of an iceberg. Kim Jong Il remains angry with President Lee who bluntly warned Pyongyang that his government would take much harsher actions against the Communist state if it continued to use its nuclear capabilities to extort its neighbors for economic packages for the impoverished nation.

His predecessors Kim Dae-jung and Roh Moo-hyun took much softer approach by offering “stick and carrot” policies on the nuclear issue. But even Japan and the US are frustrated and were often at loss on what to do against Kim Jong-il. Soft or harsh policies will not mean anything for Kim. What is important for him is how to get fresh money and lucrative economic packages from the international community by using any means possible. And he knows very well the “nuclear arms” capability is an easy and effective means to get what he wants.

But Lee also fully realizes it is very difficult for China to take stern measures against a country that totally depends on China’s “economic generosity”, although Kim’s nuclear threats could backfire against China itself.

Without China’s full support, Kim’s regime would collapse immediately and there would be chaos because the military would definitely maintain a dictator government.
The collapse of North Korea would be a huge burden for China, because millions of refugees would flock to the borders, and the United States would expand its already strong military presence in the Korean peninsula.

The reunification of the two Koreas under such a scenario could create a much more powerful and united Korea. A strong and united Korea, however, is the very last choice for its neighbors like Japan, China and Russia.

The Six Party Talks — involving the two Koreas, China, Japan, the US and Russia — have gone nowhere because China and Russia are strong supporters of North Korea while the US continues to push the North to abandon its nuclear development.
The collapse of Pyongyang regime would be an unbearable task for the South because it would have to absorb millions of people living in severe poverty and the chaos caused by such a collapse could also bring South Korea to the brink of economic collapse.

The idea of reunification of the two countries is no longer on the agenda for many South Koreans because they do not want to lose the robust economic prosperity they enjoy.

However, they do share the fear of a possible war with their neighbor who is led by a leader who will not hesitate to take action, no matter how dangerous it is, when his grip on power is in danger.

Tension and the threat of nuclear conflict on the North Korean Peninsula continually attracts the attention of the international community including Indonesia. There are rumors that the North has shared its nuclear technology with Myanmar. Myanmar has strongly denied the issue as baseless, but no one knows for sure that such a scenario is totally impossible.

China has become a global economic superpower and will soon replace Japan’s position as world’s second-largest economy after the United States. It is very unrealistic to expect Beijing to significantly shift its traditional position to oppose North Korea because the two countries have had very strong relations for a very long time.
But China also has the responsibility to ensure that the North will not use its nuclear power to destabilize the region. No one knows how advanced the North’s nuclear technology is, but no one knows either whether the North’s leaders will use these weapons responsibly.

The South Korean government recently invited a group of journalists from the 10 members of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), including The Jakarta Post’s Kornelius Purba, to visit the world’s 13rd-largest economy. By Kornelius Purba, Jakarta

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