Pyongyang Plays Dirty

[This post was originally posted in The Dragon and The Eagle on 25 January 2009]

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 North Korea had withdrawn itself from the six-party talks designed to ‘clear’ the problem of its nuclear threat, talks co-sponsored by China, its main ally.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.

‘Energy security with Chinese characteristics’

[This post was originally posted in The Dragon and The Eagle on 18 December 2006]

“China is willing to cooperate with other countries in developing and exploiting energy resources, especially in energy conservation, improvement of energy efficiency, development of alternative energy resources and environmental protection concerning energy utilization, and contribute to maintaining the stability and security of international energy supply.” (People’s Daily Online, 16 December 2006)

The above sentence was a remark made by Premier Wen Jiabao in five countries meeting in Beijing last weekend. Along with India, Japan, South Korea, and the U.S., China had used this meeting to boost further “energy efficiency … (as) a strategic issue in China’s economic development.” The meeting concluded with, among others, a shared interest of taking “effective measures to improve energy efficiency to address the energy security issue.” For China alone, this meeting was quite important as many predict it will be the number one oil importer by the first half of the century.

It is easy to understand that the massive measure of Chinese economic development has been demanding a huge amount of energy, notably oil, available. Even though domestic energy supplies still contribute a significant part of Chinese energy demand, but external energy supplies has been on the rise for the last five years or so. This has led many countries, among them is the U.S of course, worry that Beijing’s huge demand of energy could be a threat of world energy security. China quickly responds to this development by saying that ‘the allegation’ would have no reason. According to the Chinese government, “energy imports only constitute a minor part of China’s energy mix which depends mainly on the domestic resources.” As China’s import of oil is still far behind those of the U.S. and Japan at the moment, “it was unfair to say China’s remarkable increase in oil demand would be responsible for the world’s upsurging oil price.” (quotes taken from People’s Daily Online).

However, things could be change so rapidly these days. With economic development progress, China understands that it needs more energy supply, and this may come from outside resources. While stands as the world’s number one coal producer, Chinese dependence on coal burning for energy may have not lasted forever. Just remember that coal burning is regarded as the top cause of environmental degradation in today’s China. We are now familiar with phrases like ‘China’s quest for energy security‘,‘China’s global hunt for energy’, or ‘China’s oil diplomacy’, which see China pays more unprecedented attention to Africa and Latin America. We may see that China will play more important roles in global energy security as we prepare for the upcoming of what I call “The century of the new dragon”. Washington and Tokyo may not happy to see this development, but it seems to me no one but the Chinese themselves can prevent it from happening.