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North Korean nuclear tests

North Korea’s threats are a regional issue and not China’s responsibility alone to resolve

Negotiating an end to nuclear and weapons proliferation through bilateral and multi-party talks is the best way forward

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 13 February, 2016, 12:40am
UPDATED : Saturday, 13 February, 2016, 12:40am

Patience and diplomacy are the most sensible way to stop North Korea’s provocations. Tougher sanctions being considered by some UN Security Council members after the latest nuclear and missile tests will not solve the problem, nor are they in the interests of China. An anti-missile shield the US wants to build in South Korea makes matters worse; it has the potential to turn a regional threat into a Cold War-like conflict between Beijing and Washington and their allies. Cooperation and working together is the only viable way of bringing stability to Northeast Asia.

The US has other ideas, refusing to talk to North Korean leader Kim Jong-un’s regime and instead putting faith in sanctions. Each new nuclear device or missile test since 2006 has been met with another round of Security Council measures. The steps are not working, as the latest tests prove, and China is under intense pressure from the US to cut off vital fuel and food supplies. There is no closer economic or political ally, the argument goes, and it is Beijing’s responsibility to bend to the will of its Security Council partners.

A phone conversation between President Xi Jinping (習近平) and his American counterpart Barack Obama before last Sunday’s launch of what the North said was a satellite, but which rivals contend was a long-range missile test, and earlier visit to Beijing by US Secretary of State John Kerry, made clear Washington’s position. While there was talk of cooperation, the aim was to persuade Beijing to do more to pressure Pyongyang. But there is only so much China can and is willing to do. The decision by the US to initiate talks with South Korea on deploying a sophisticated anti-missile system that would also give Washington the ability to intervene in a conflict between the mainland and Taiwan only furthers the lack of understanding. China responded angrily and for good reason: The decision heightens regional tension and frustrates one of the few areas of co-operation between Beijing and Washington.

The North’s threats are a regional issue and not China’s responsibility alone to resolve. It is not in its interests to force the collapse of the Kim dynasty; apart from severing export markets, there could be even greater hardship for Koreans, internal armed conflict and a flood of millions of refugees into Chinese territory. Withdrawing from the Kaesong joint industrial park, as South Korea has done, is counterproductive. Negotiating an end to nuclear and weapons proliferation through bilateral and multi-party talks is the best way forward.