Cooler China, tougher US seek balance on North Korea
When the United States trumpeted its outline agreement with North Korea to end Kim Jong Il's nuclear arms programme in September 2005, some analysts predicted that China's long-term communist ally would never halt the development of nuclear weapons. Nearly eight years later, and 16 months after Kim's death, the pessimists seem to have been proved correct.
Copyright Deutsche Presse-Agentur, 2013
"The DPRK's (Democratic People's Republic of Korea's) nuclear armed forces represent the nation's life which can never be abandoned," North Korea's top leaders said at a meeting on March 31, according to the official Korean Central News Agency. Talks have stalled since 2009 over implementing the 2005 six-nation agreement for North Korea to end its nuclear programme in exchange for diplomatic and economic concessions from the United States, China, South Korea, Japan and Russia. Yet some things have changed since 2005. China has shown signs of cooling its relationship with North Korea amid frustration at Pyongyang's three nuclear tests in 2006, 2009 and in February, plus its refusal to resume dialogue.
Washington has rallied the international community to censure North Korea several times at the United Nations Security Council. Under pressure at home to take a tougher line, the US government has repeatedly urged China, Pyongyang's major ally over the past 60 years, to use its economic and diplomatic influence to bring North Korea back to the negotiating table.
When China first hosted six-nation talks in 2003, Chinese analysts said Beijing was only facilitating US-North Korean dialogue within a wider framework that allowed Washington to classify the talks as multilateral. Beijing still insists that bilateral talks between Washington and Pyongyang are crucial to ending more than a decade of military threats, diplomatic drama and growing international concern.
"To get to the root of the problem, the United States should have a dialogue with North Korea," a Chinese diplomat told dpa last week. US President Barack Obama on Thursday called for North Korea's leaders to "end the kind of belligerent approach that they've been taking."
On the same day, US Secretary of State John Kerry and foreign ministers of the other G8 nations jointly condemned North Korea's "current aggressive rhetoric" and urged it to "engage in credible and authentic multilateral talks on denuclearisation" under the 2005 agreement.
The prospects of official bilateral talks look remote. During meetings in Beijing on Saturday, Kerry is expected to urge Chinese leaders again to put more pressure on North Korea to return to the six-nation dialogue. Chinese experts and diplomats are exasperated by what they see as an unrealistic clamour for China to rein in its neighbour, with which its shares a partially porous 1,400-kilometre land border.
"China has taken unprecedented moves in warning and restraining North Korea," Beijing-based international relations analyst Shi Yinhong told dpa. "The United States wants nothing more than [China] to cut material supplies and aid to North Korea, because we cannot put pressure on North Korea diplomatically," Shi said.
"North Korea has closed its doors to China since January," he said, citing unconfirmed reports that Pyongyang had refused diplomatic visits three times. Despite their co-operation over UN sanctions, the difference in perceptions of China's influence caused discord between Beijing and Washington over their response to North Korea's recent provocation, said Cheng Xiaohe, an international relations expert at People's University in Beijing,
"Actually, both China and the US were not very satisfied with each other," Cheng said. "China was unhappy about tough measures taken by the US," he said. "For example, it strengthened its anti-missile system and military force in East Asia." "Meanwhile, the US doubts whether China will seriously implement the UN Security Council resolutions and the US was also dissatisfied with China's warning to North Korea," Cheng said. "They don't think the warning was serious enough."
China still considered North Korea "as a friend, even if it continually made provocation's," he said. Washington and Beijing had common views on the threat posed by North Korea, Cheng said, but "the fundamental difference between China and the US is how to deal with this threat." "China wants negotiation, while the US believes that talks alone cannot solve the problem," he said. Cheng said Kerry and Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi would need to "find a route that can be accepted by both parties, a balance between peaceful dialogue and severe sanctions."