Thursday, January 27, 2011

INTERNATIONAL CRISIS GROUP - NEW REPORT China and Inter-Korean Clashes in the Yellow Sea

Beijing/Seoul/Brussels, 27 January 2011: China is undermining its own security interests by downplaying North Korea’s deadly provocations in the Yellow Sea.

China and Inter-Korean Clashes in the Yellow Sea, the latest report from the International Crisis Group, examines Beijing’s ambivalent responses to the Ch’ŏnan sinking and Yŏnp’yŏng Island shelling and its deepened political, economic and military relationship with North Korea. It warns of increasing tensions in North East Asia as South Korea and Japan strengthen their military alliances with the U.S. and consider expanding their missile defense systems to counter the security threat from North Korea.

“China’s refusal to hold Pyongyang to account for its deadly attacks on South Korea prevents a unified international response”, says Stephanie Kleine-Ahlbrandt, Crisis Group’s North East Asia Project Director. “It invites further North Korean military and nuclear provocations and the increased militarisation of North East Asia”.
Beijing’s concerns about stability in North Korea have deepened since 2009, following reports of Kim Jong-Il’s failing health, a disastrous currency reform and uncertainties surrounding leadership transition. It hopes that its increased support for Pyongyang during the succession process will result in closer political ties and make the next generation of leaders more amenable to Chinese-style economic reform. The approach to the North is also powerfully shaped by rising concern about a perceived U.S. strategic return to Asia and opposition to greater American regional military and political presence.

Initially China downplayed the Yŏnp’yŏng Island shelling and criticised U.S. military deployment and exercises with allies in North East Asia. However, the subsequent spike in inter-Korean tensions altered its threat perception and led it ultimately to tone down criticism of the U.S., send an envoy to Pyongyang and join with Washington in calling for talks between the North and South and expressing concern at North Korea’s uranium enrichment program. The joint statement signed by Presidents Hu and Obama during the Chinese leader’s Washington visit on 19 January was welcome, but its practical effect remains to be seen, since China continues to shield Pyongyang and support it politically and economically.

“Beijing’s responses to the deadly clashes in the Yellow Sea are a test of its willingness to act as a responsible stakeholder in regional security”, says Robert Templer, Crisis Group’s Asia Program Director. “China’s influence in Pyongyang makes it crucial for international efforts to address North Korea, but its policy of supporting the government instead of holding it to account heightens the risk of further military and nuclear provocations”.
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The International Crisis Group (Crisis Group) is an independent, non-profit, non-governmental organisation covering some 60 crisis-affected countries and territories across four continents, working through field-based analysis and high-level advocacy to prevent and resolve deadly conflict.

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