Surprising developments had taken place in the East Asia this week. Two giants of the region, Japan and China, were having a summit (the first in five years) in Beijing following the appointment of Japan’s new Prime Minister Shinzo Abe. Both countries have been estranged neighbours for quite a long time, yet the major issue in this summit was North Korea’s nuclear threat. Both Abe, who was appointed just two weeks ago, and President Hu Jintao agreed that a nuclear test by North Korea could not be tolerated.
But this joint statement went unheard as Pyongyang did test an underground nuclear bomb yesterday. North Korea had withdrawn itself from the six-party talks designed to ‘clear’ the problem of its nuclear threat, talks co-sponsored by China, its main ally. Washington’s reluctance to hold a bilateral talk with Pyongyang had further boosted its ‘confidence’ to enter ‘the league of small, yet prestigious nuclear countries’ by testing the bomb.
The test was yet the culmination of Kim Jong-Il’s stubbornness that many find it easy to understand the condemnation of the test around the world. I for one also believe that things are getting more and more difficult for China. Abe’s visit to Beijing was unexpectedly, given the fact that he’d choose to visit Beijing first instead of the Yasukuni shrine. It is hopefully a good sign of mature relationship between the two countries, leaving all the turmoils behind. Nevertheless, China failed to ensure North Korea that the test wouldn’t bring anything but worldwide criticism as well as growing insecurity in the region.
I then remembered some of my comments during a Chinese foreign policy class some time ago. If North Korea wouldn’t step down from its nuclear threat, the U.N. would have been ‘pushed’ to send its troops there. Of course, American soldiers will be a reasonable part of the force (However, according to Chris Matthews from MSNBC, the American public would not support two or more wars involving American forces at the same time). Should North Korea be another ‘state of (American) war’, many of its people will seek for shelters. Being a refugee, they may run south, cross the Russian border, or enter China’s provinces of Jilin and Liaoning (and perhaps Heilongjiang). The last scenario will let Beijing respond difficultly. Pyongyang has been for a long time a close ally to Beijing, yet China is expected to face a lot of problems giving much needed shelters and foods to North Korean refugees. The future of North Korea is no doubt a major concern for any Chinese leadership.
Time will tell us whether the U.S. sends its troop in South Korea crossing the border. Needless to say, this is the last thing China wants to happen.
[The post was originally published on 10 October 2006 at http://dragonandeagle.blogspot.com/2006/10/pyongyang-plays-dirty.html]