BEIJING - Despite strong opposition from the international community, North Korea went ahead with its planned use of a long-range rocket to launch a satellite. As the North Koreans were cheering the successful Dec. 4 launch, their longtime Chinese ally was in no mood for celebrations.
North Korea’s missile and nuclear capabilities have been worrying the international community for years now. Due to the many similarities between satellite and long-range missile launching technology, the United States sees the launch as a serious threat.
Over the past dozen years, the U.S. and the United Nations Security Council have tried repeatedly to convince North Korea to give up its rocket launches. However, even the pressure of economic sanctions and three separate Security Council binding resolutions haven’t deterred the country from its repeated challenges to the international community.
But at the same time, many countries blame China for North Korea’s frequent violations, and have accused Beijing of not supporting the de-nuclearization of the Korean Peninsula.
What is the basis for such charges? And after years of painstakingly seeking peace and stability with its neighbors, what has China done to merit these accusations?
The first reason is based on the notion that China and North Korea are allies. The countries that hold this view are still looking from the Cold War perspective. The military mutual aid alliance between the two countries was officially formed in 1961, but has not been in effect since the end of the Cold War. Based on this view, countries still believe that China has an obligation to protect North Korea.
The second reason is the “balance of power" theory. In response to the rise of China, the U.S. is joining forces with China’s neighboring countries to rebalance the region. Thus, to avoid being isolated, China’s alliances with Russia and North Korea are stronger than ever.
The third reason is the “appeasement” theory. That is to say, China’s counter-measures to North Korea’s provocations are too accommodating and too weak. Not only does North Korea not appreciate Beijing's position, it also repeatedly crosses the red line to challenge China’s interests and the authority of the UN. The reason why North Korea can take such a tough stance is because China is not hard enough, and is not exerting its influence.
In the end, these criticisms are biased against China; still they are worth closer examination.
A dangerous friend
If North Korea continues to put massive funds into expensive missiles and nuclear research, why should China continue to offer it unconditional international humanitarian assistance? When North Korea provokes its neighbors over and over with missile launches and nuclear programs, this damages China’s image, alienates its relations with other countries, and weakens its position at the UN Security Council. So why should China still go out of its way to promote economic and trade cooperation with North Korea?
If North Korea does not listen to China’s advice, and continues to cross China’s diplomatic and security bottom line, shouldn’t China start re-examining its policy towards North Korea?
Meanwhile, how can North Korea’s security be safeguarded in this context? How can peace be guaranteed on the Korean Peninsula? Who is both capable and willing to launch satellites for North Korea? These are all the most crucial issues to be pondered.
All in all, North Korea is an important neighbor for China. In comparison with other neighboring countries, China has prioritized North Korea over the years. But this neighbor’s outrageous actions are harmful to its Chinese friend.
It’s time for China to seriously reconsider its policy toward North Korea.