China Must Just Say 'No' To North Korea Before It's Too Late

Unprecedented worries over the Korean Peninsula
Unprecedented worries over the Korean Peninsula
Zhang Jianjing

BEIJING - It has been several weeks since North Korea conducted its third nuclear test on February 12. The international community has condemned it, and the worry expressed is unprecedented.

China, in a very unusual move, summoned the North Korean Ambassador to Beijing the same day. The UN Security Council immediately made a declaration condemning the test. President Barack Obama, after contacting the heads of state of Japan and South Korea to reiterate the nuclear protection offered by the United States, held consultations with the two countries in Washington D.C.

The test showed that North Korea has made significant progress in nuclear weapon technology. This is coupled with the launch last December of its BrightStar-3 earth observation satellite, which demonstrated that their delivery capabilities have also advanced. This means that the Korean Peninsula now, in all likelihood, includes a country with intercontinental nuclear strike capability.

With more tests by Pyongyang believed to be on their way, we are now looking at a situation that risks getting out of control.

That North Korea is faced off against the international community is a blow for China's international prestige. China has been making painstaking efforts to promote a peaceful settlement of the North Korean nuclear issue. In 2003, Chinese leaders established and led the "six-party talks" mechanism, which was once considered to be a very constructive approach and gave the international community hope of seeing the issue resolved.

However, a decade has passed without any progress. North Korea has unilaterally and openly expressed its strong dissatisfaction with the six-party talks. It announced its permanent withdrawal from this mechanism four years ago. And now it has crossed the nuclear threshold, openly declaring itself to be a "nuclear state."

All involved parties need to undertake a review of their policy failure over North Korea. It should be noted that the international community's efforts over the years have failed to constrain North Korea's nuclear ambition. The main reason lays within North Korea itself, which is driven by a need to safeguard its national system.

Since the end of the Cold War and the collapse of the Soviet Union, North Korea has felt a real sense of insecurity. It's convinced that only by possessing a nuclear deterrent can it ensure its safety. Ultimately solving the North Korean nuclear issue will depend on whether North Korea can eventually change its perception of both its own and international conditions.

Currently, a lot of the foreign press offer sarcastic criticism over China's stance and strategy on the North Korea nuclear issue. Objectively speaking the issue is a very complex one, and it is unfair and counter-productive to simply blame China. All must look harder at their own failings.

Still, allowing North Korea to develop nuclear arms does not sit well with China's national interests. China has never wavered in its stance over the denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula, and insists in solving the issue through peaceful negotiation in the search of stability in the region. The Sino-North Korean Mutual Aid and Cooperation Friendship Treaty, which is still in effect, makes it impossible for China to accept solving the North Korean nuclear issue through war.

Denuclearization and stability are hence the two fulcrums of China's policy towards Pyongyang. But it is clear that North Korea took advantage of the point about stability. Knowing they never really risked having to go to war, North Korea's leaders managed to bide time with the international community, including China, while little by little building the capacity of their nuclear program.

If North Korea really undertakes the fourth and fifth nuclear tests later this year, it will be a serious provocation to the Northeast Asian states, including China. Such obstinancy will lead to a further deterioration of the region’s security situation. Once Pyongyang possesses nuclear weapons, the United States may very decide to deploy nuclear weapons on Japanese and South Korean territory -- or we may even see those two countries start to develop their own nuclear forces.

Therefore, China must take resolute measures to prevent such a situation occurring. But the space left to China has become increasingly cramped. Chinese leaders ought not to allow North Korea to insist on clinging to its course. In addition to continuing the coordination of the six-party talks on the nuclear issue, China should take firm measures to prevent the development of the peninsula’s nuclear capabilities.

First, China should harden its resolute opposition stance. For instance, it needs to increase sanctions on North Korea and freeze all aid to it. China has got to let North Korea know that Chinese people won’t agree to continue supporting a country that has a more than 70% trade dependence on China, accepts each year huge amounts of oil and food in aid from China and that at the same time threatens China’s national interests.

North Korea ought to know that it’s time to stop and respect China’s bottom line.

Second, politically, China should urge North Korea to initiate domestic reforms and support it opening up. A closed, aggressive and extremely sensitive North Korea is not in line with China’s interests. It needs to be made explicit to North Korea that China supports a state that is moving towards reforms and openness, and that China is willing to strive for a steady international environment to make such a North Korea possible. China should also show explicitly that a non-annexation unification of the Korean Peninsula complies with China’s self interest.

Third, it should be clear that the denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula is in China’s long-term strategy, and not simply some kind of political or diplomatic expedient. The denuclearization of this peninsula is to be regarded as a core interest for China. China should be determined to resist without compromise any attempt to deploy or develop nuclear weapons on the Korean Peninsula

Keep up with the world. Break out of the bubble.
Sign up to our expressly international daily newsletter!

The Food Truck, A Sign That The White And Wealthy Are Moving In

In San Diego, California, a researcher tracked how in the city's low-income neighborhoods that have traditionally lacked dining options, when interesting eateries arrive the gentrification of white, affluent and college-educated people has begun.

Balboa Park Spring Fling Food Truck festival

San Diego Food Trucks via Facebook
Pascale Joassart-Marcelli

SAN DIEGO — Everybody, it seems, welcomes the arrival of new restaurants, cafés, food trucks and farmers markets.

What could be the downside of fresh veggies, homemade empanadas and a pop-up restaurant specializing in banh mis?

But when they appear in unexpected places – think inner-city areas populated by immigrants – they're often the first salvo in a broader effort to rebrand and remake the community. As a result, these neighborhoods can quickly become unaffordable and unrecognizable to longtime residents.

An appetite for gentrification

I live in San Diego, where I teach courses on urban and food geographies and conduct research on the relationship between food and ethnicity in urban contexts.

In recent years, I started to notice a pattern playing out in the city's low-income neighborhoods that have traditionally lacked food options. More ethnic restaurants, street vendors, community gardens and farmers markets were cropping up. These, in turn, spurred growing numbers of white, affluent and college-educated people to venture into areas they had long avoided.

This observation inspired me to write a book, titled The $16 Taco, about how food – including what's seen as "ethnic," "authentic" or "alternative" – often serves as a spearhead for gentrification.

Take City Heights, a large multi-ethnic San Diego neighborhood where successive waves of refugees from places as far away as Vietnam and Somalia have resettled. In 2016, a dusty vacant lot on the busiest boulevard was converted into an outdoor international marketplace called Fair@44. There, food vendors gather in semi-permanent stalls to sell pupusas, lechon (roasted pig), single-sourced cold-brewed coffee, cupcakes and tamarind raspado (crushed ice) to neighborhood residents, along with tourists and visitors from other parts of the city.

Informal street vendors are casualties.

A public-private partnership called the City Heights Community Development Corporation, together with several nonprofits, launched the initiative to increase "access to healthy and culturally appropriate food" and serve as "a business incubator for local micro-entrepreneurs," including immigrants and refugees who live in the neighborhood.

On paper, this all sounds great.

But just a few blocks outside the gates, informal street vendors – who have long sold goods such as fruit, tamales and ice cream to residents who can't easily access supermarkets – now face heightened harassment. They've become causalities in a citywide crackdown on sidewalk vending spurred by complaints from business owners and residents in more affluent areas.

This isn't just happening in San Diego. The same tensions have been playing out in rapidly gentrifying areas like Los Angeles' Boyle Heights neighborhood, Chicago's Pilsen neighborhood, New York's Queens borough and East Austin, Texas.

In all of these places, because "ethnic," "authentic" and "exotic" foods are seen as cultural assets, they've become magnets for development.

Food vendor at outdoor international marketplace called Fair@44.

Fairat44 via Instagram

A call for food justice

Cities and neighborhoods have long sought to attract educated and affluent residents – people whom sociologist Richard Florida dubbed "the creative class." The thinking goes that these newcomers will spend their dollars and presumably contribute to economic growth and job creation.

Food, it seems, has become the perfect lure.

It's uncontroversial and has broad appeal. It taps into the American Dream and appeals to the multicultural values of many educated, wealthy foodies. Small food businesses, with their relatively low cost of entry, have been a cornerstone of ethnic entrepreneurship in American cities. And initiatives like farmers markets and street fairs don't require much in the way of public investment; instead, they rely on entrepreneurs and community-based organizations to do the heavy lifting.

In City Heights, the Community Development Corporation hosted its first annual City Heights Street Food Festival in 2019 to "get people together around table and food stalls to celebrate another year of community building." Other recent events have included African Restaurant Week, Dia de Los Muertos, New Year Lunar Festival, Soul Food Fest and Brazilian Carnival, all of which rely on food and drink to attract visitors and support local businesses.

Meanwhile, initiatives such as the New Roots Community Farm and the City Heights Farmers' Market have been launched by nonprofits with philanthropic support in the name of "food justice," with the goal of reducing racial disparities in access to healthy food and empowering residents – projects that are particularly appealing to highly educated people who value diversity and democracy.

Upending an existing foodscape

In media coverage of changing foodscapes in low-income neighborhoods like City Heights, you'll rarely find any complaints.

San Diego Magazine's neighborhood guide for City Heights, for example, emphasizes its "claim to authentic international eats, along with live music venues, craft beer, coffee, and outdoor fun." It recommends several ethnic restaurants and warns readers not to be fooled by appearances.

Longtime residents find themselves forced to compete against the "urban food machine"

But that doesn't mean objections don't exist.

Many longtime residents and small-business owners – mostly people of color and immigrants – have, for decades, lived, worked and struggled to feed their families in these neighborhoods. To do so, they've run convenience stores, opened ethnic restaurants, sold food in parks and alleys and created spaces to grow their own food.

All represent strategies to meet community needs in a place mostly ignored by mainstream retailers.

So what happens when new competitors come to town?

Food vendor at outdoor international marketplace called Fair@44.

Fairat44 via Instagram

Starting at a disadvantage

As I document in my book, these ethnic food businesses, because of a lack of financial and technical support, often struggle to compete with new enterprises that feature fresh façades, celebrity chefs, flashy marketing, bogus claims of authenticity and disproportionate media attention. Furthermore, following the arrival of more-affluent residents, existing ones find it increasingly difficult to stay.

My analysis of real estate ads for properties listed in City Heights and other gentrifying San Diego neighborhoods found that access to restaurants, cafés, farmers markets and outdoor dining is a common selling point. The listings I studied from 2019 often enticed potential buyers with lines like "shop at the local farmers' market," "join food truck festivals" and "participate in community food drives!"

San Diego Magazine's home buyer guide for the same year identified City Heights as an "up-and-coming neighborhood," attributing its appeal to its diverse population and eclectic "culinary landscape," including several restaurants and Fair@44.

When I see that City Heights' home prices rose 58% over the past three years, I'm not surprised.

Going up against the urban food machine

Longtime residents find themselves forced to compete against what I call the "urban food machine," a play on sociologist Harvey Molotch's "urban growth machine" – a term he coined more than 50 years ago to explain how cities were being shaped by a loose coalition of powerful elites who sought to profit off urban growth.

I argue that investors and developers use food as a tool for achieving the same ends.

When their work is done, what's left is a rather insipid and tasteless neighborhood, where foodscapes become more of a marketable mishmash of cultures than an ethnic enclave that's evolved organically to meet the needs of residents. The distinctions of time and place start to blur: An "ethnic food district" in San Diego looks no different than one in Chicago or Austin.

Meanwhile, the routines and rhythms of everyday life have changed so much that longtime residents no longer feel like they belong. Their stories and culture reduced to a selling point, they're forced to either recede to the shadows or leave altogether.

It's hard to see how that's a form of inclusion or empowerment.The Conversation


Pascale Joassart-Marcelli is a Professor of Geography and Director, Urban Studies and Food Studies Programs at San Diego State University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Keep up with the world. Break out of the bubble.
Sign up to our expressly international daily newsletter!