China Slow To Intervene
BY WENDELL MINNICK
TAIPEI — China appears unmoved by the pleas of senior U.S. government officials to help rein in North Korea. The reasons are geographic, historic and strategic.
“This is still China’s closest neighbor and ally,” said Larry Wortzel, vice chairman, U.S.-China Economic and Security Review Commission.
Beijing could be hobbled by the classified annex of the friendship treaty that outlines China’s security guarantees to North Korea.
U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton recently visited Beijing to coordinate punitive actions against Pyongyang, which is accused of sinking a South Korean corvette March 26. But she arrived weeks after North Korean leader Kim Jong-il met May 5-6 with Chinese Communist Party leaders.
Kim’s visit put Chinese leaders in an awkward position, and they reflexively sided with North Korea on the sinking, a Chinese defense analyst said.
Moreover, conspiracy theories are circulating in Beijing that “discount the validity of the South Korean claim” as part of a U.S. effort to create and benefit from a crisis atmosphere, the analyst said.
And Chinese leaders are “genuinely not convinced by the evidence,” said Bonnie Glaser, a China specialist for the Washingtonbased Center for Strategic and International Studies.
Glaser, just back from a visit with Chinese officials, said Beijing wants a wider international investigation — “not just by Western nations” — of the evidence at the scene of the sinking.
Australian, British, Swedish and U.S. experts oversaw a South Korean probe, which concluded that that a North Korean torpedo sank the corvette.
As for geography, North Korea serves as a buffer to a U.S.-backed South Korean democracy and regional military power. China has little interest in allowing the U.S. military to extend its reach to the Yalu River, and the idea of a thriving democratic Korean peninsula on its doorstep unnerves Beijing.
Maintaining the status quo might be Beijing’s only answer to the crisis.
“Pushing the DPRK [North Korea] too far risks producing shortterm and long-term outcomes that would likely unsettle the region,” said Toshi Yoshihara, a China specialist at the U.S. Naval War College.