Wen Blows Beijing’s Soft Power

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President Lee Myeong-bak, center, and Japanese Prime Minister Yukio Hatoyama, left, listen to Chinese Prime Minister Wen Jiabao during the press conference at Jeju International Convention Center after participating in a tripartite summit, May 30.

Call me crazy – I’ve had my money on Sanger’s #3 option almost from the day I started working on North Korean issues – but Beijing is hemorrhaging credibility, and we have the current Cheonan-related tension on the Korean peninsula to thank

President Lee Myeong-bak, center, and Japanese Prime Minister Yukio Hatoyama, left, listen to Chinese Prime Minister Wen Jiabao during the press conference at Jeju International Convention Center after participating in a tripartite summit, May 30.

Call me crazy – I’ve had my money on Sanger’s #3 option almost from the day I started working on North Korean issues – but Beijing is hemorrhaging credibility, and we have the current Cheonan-related tension on the Korean peninsula to thank for that.

China, which is North Korea’s biggest trade partner and which fought alongside the North in 1950-53 Korea War, has declined to publicly join international condemnation of Pyongyang, saying it is still assessing the evidence.

Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao kept to that stance at the two-day summit in Seogwipo, a honeymoon resort on South Korea’s Jeju island, which was originally meant to focus on regional economic integration.

“The pressing task now is to respond appropriately to the serious effects of the Cheonan incident, to steadily reduce tensions, and especially to avoid a clash,” Wen said, standing next to Japanese Prime Minister Yukio Hatoyama and South Korean President Lee Myung-bak at the end of the summit.

Wen did not mention North Korea by name, nor did he give any firm indication that China would accept any U.N. Security Council effort to condemn or sanction the North.

The Lee administration is trying to spin PRC Prime Minister Wen Jiabao’s remarks, “…that while China took a half-step forward last time at the South Korea-China summit on Friday, it has now moved a full step closer.” Don’t grovel, President Lee!

WaPo has taken a tough line on Beijing.

In the short term China’s behavior has benefited the United States. Watching Beijing defend the indefensible probably helped the Japanese government settle a dispute with the Obama administration over a U.S. base on Okinawa. It has shown South Koreans as well as people throughout Asia why the United States remains an indispensable guarantor of security in the region.

Still, an end to the crisis between the Koreas will require a more responsible approach by China. Abstaining from a Security Council resolution is not enough; Beijing must act decisively to restrain Mr. Kim from further provocations. The events of the past week are a sign that China cannot prop up a criminal client state and also be regarded as benign in its growing power. Sooner rather than later, it will have a choice to make.

So, I’m liking my chances. As long as there’s no coup in Pyongyang, let Beijing bleed.

Filed under: East Asia, Korea Tagged: cheonan, china, dprk, japan, lee myung bak, prc, rok, wen jiabao, yukio hatoyma



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