Can China Help the U.S. Counter a Belligerent North Korea?

Obama is pressuring Beijing to help deter North Korean aggresssion

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As the U.S. seeks to deal with North Korea, which recently shelled a South Korean town without warning, both American diplomats and the rest of the world are increasingly looking to China. The U.S. State Department cables released by Wikileaks appear to show that China, long a patron of Kim Jong-Il's regime, may be willing to work with the U.S. in isolating and pressuring North Korea into better behavior. But how willing is China, really, to turn against North Korea? Even the Chinese are willing, can they make a difference? Are there other options?

  • Korean Dispute Reveals U.S.-China Tensions  The New York Times' Michael Wines and David Sanger examine the "effort by the White House to persuade China's leaders to discuss a crisis that many experts fear could escalate into military action." They conclude: "the long silence epitomizes the speed with which relations between Washington and Beijing have plunged into a freeze. This year has witnessed the longest period of tension between the two capitals in a decade. And if anything, both sides appear to be hardening their positions. ... Cooperation on managing North Korea’s nuclear ambitions, which began with considerable promise in 2009, appears to have disintegrated."
  • Obama Should Listen To, Not Lecture, China  The Guardian's Simon Tisdall warns the Korean dispute is "placing serious new strains on already fraught relations between China and the US. ... Beijing's stance, based on its very different calculations about how best to handle the North, is almost exactly the opposite of Washington's. This head-on policy collision, if it is allowed to continue and develop, presents the most likely path to escalating armed conflict." Here's his advice: "Obama should stop blaming China, stop pressuring North Korea militarily, and start talking--which, after all, is what he's good at."
  • Do We Really Need China?  National Review's Carolyn Leddy sees no serious from China on North Korea, but says we have more important allies in the region: South Korea and Japan, with which the U.S. is meeting to discuss North Korea. "The symbolism of the United States, South Korea, and Japan standing shoulder-to-shoulder will certainly not be lost on either Pyongyang or Beijing," she writes. "After all, the combined political and military alliances of Washington, Seoul, and Tokyo serve as the bedrock of regional security and stability in the Asia-Pacific region. And governments in Australia, Vietnam, Taiwan, and Singapore, among others, count on these alliances remaining robust long after the reunification of the Korean peninsula."
China's leverage over North Korea is far more limited than it often appears. China's strategy has been to demonstrate to Kim Jong Il that he could copy Beijing's economic reforms without losing his grip on political power. ... Over time, China's lack of real influence has become clearer and clearer. ... Over and over, Kim has apparently offered just enough reforms to convince China that he might be on the road to real change, but then pulled back after winning new tranches of aid, embarrassing Beijing yet again.
  • U.S.-China 'Partnership' Not Accomplishing Much  The L.A. Times' Andrew Malcolm gets sarcastic, saying the U.S.-China partnership on North Korea "has certainly worked well in recent years, not thwarting the North's development of nuclear weapons, not heading off its development of long-range missiles, not preventing the sinking of a South Korean ship last spring and not avoiding shelling of an innocent island recently."
This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.