China Returns as North Korea's Defender

William R. Hawkins
In his opening remarks at the Jan. 19 White House press conference with Chinese President Hu Jintao, President Barack Obama said, "I told President Hu that we appreciated China's role in reducing tensions on the Korean Peninsula, and we agreed that North Korea must avoid further provocations." In the run up to Hu's state visit, the word was out the Beijing had finally decided to put pressure on Pyongyang to behave.

Five weeks later, the status quo ante summit has returned. In the state-run China Daily newspaper on March 1, two leading academics with ties to the Beijing regime were back making the argument for protecting the "integrity" of the Democratic People's Republic of Korea. Men Honghua, a professor of international studies at the Party School of the Central Committee of the Communist Party of China, and Xiao Xi, an associate professor in the Department of International Politics at Jilin University, blamed the United States for tensions in the region.

The joint military exercises held by the United States and the ROK since last year have pushed the Korean Peninsula to the brink of war several times. The main reason behind the actions of the US and the ROK is rumors of the DPRK's collapse.

The "DPRK collapse" theory is the result of some countries' guesswork, distortion of facts and outright hostility toward Pyongyang. The Korean Peninsula issue has been plaguing the US since the beginning of the Cold War. The US is pinning its hopes on the collapse of the DPRK's political leadership. Of late, it has started believing that the DPRK's "collapse" is a precondition for it to play a greater role in East Asia.

On its part, the ROK wants to dominate the "reunification" process.

No mention is made of the sinking of the Republic of Korea corvette Cheonan, the artillery attack on Yeonpyeong Island, Pyongyang's revelation of a new uranium enrichment facility at its Yongbyon nuclear complex or reports that the Punggye-ri site is being prepared for another atomic bomb test. Instead, it was alleged that "the DPRK has changed its aggressive stance, speaking for the denuclearization of the Peninsula and showing its readiness to restart the Six-Party Talks."

The Chinese professors claimed North Korea "has said that it wants a peaceful environment to focus on its economic reconstruction, and implement new economic policies and strengthen economic cooperation with China and Russia. But the latest US-ROK military drills have forced the DPRK to react differently." It has renewed its threats against the U.S. and South Korea in self defense and Beijing will have to back Pyongyang.

The situation on the Peninsula is directly related to China's security. The Peninsula has always been a strategic buffer zone for China, so the security dilemma there has created uncertainty for China's peaceful development. Besides, the US is using the Peninsula issue both as a tool to contain China and an excuse to return to East Asia. But Washington's attempt to use the joint military drills with Seoul to deter Pyongyang has been a failure.

So once again, the hope that Beijing will be a "responsible stakeholder" in the international system appears dashed. For China, the Cold War has not thawed on the Korean peninsula since the 1950s. The communist regime wants America to pull back from its alliances in the region (with Japan as well as South Korea). Beijing can then turn the adjacent seas into Chinese lakes as its diplomats and military commanders tried to do all last summer and into the fall. 

In his opening remarks at the Jan. 19 White House press conference with Chinese President Hu Jintao, President Barack Obama said, "I told President Hu that we appreciated China's role in reducing tensions on the Korean Peninsula, and we agreed that North Korea must avoid further provocations." In the run up to Hu's state visit, the word was out the Beijing had finally decided to put pressure on Pyongyang to behave.

Five weeks later, the status quo ante summit has returned. In the state-run China Daily newspaper on March 1, two leading academics with ties to the Beijing regime were back making the argument for protecting the "integrity" of the Democratic People's Republic of Korea. Men Honghua, a professor of international studies at the Party School of the Central Committee of the Communist Party of China, and Xiao Xi, an associate professor in the Department of International Politics at Jilin University, blamed the United States for tensions in the region.

The joint military exercises held by the United States and the ROK since last year have pushed the Korean Peninsula to the brink of war several times. The main reason behind the actions of the US and the ROK is rumors of the DPRK's collapse.

The "DPRK collapse" theory is the result of some countries' guesswork, distortion of facts and outright hostility toward Pyongyang. The Korean Peninsula issue has been plaguing the US since the beginning of the Cold War. The US is pinning its hopes on the collapse of the DPRK's political leadership. Of late, it has started believing that the DPRK's "collapse" is a precondition for it to play a greater role in East Asia.

On its part, the ROK wants to dominate the "reunification" process.

No mention is made of the sinking of the Republic of Korea corvette Cheonan, the artillery attack on Yeonpyeong Island, Pyongyang's revelation of a new uranium enrichment facility at its Yongbyon nuclear complex or reports that the Punggye-ri site is being prepared for another atomic bomb test. Instead, it was alleged that "the DPRK has changed its aggressive stance, speaking for the denuclearization of the Peninsula and showing its readiness to restart the Six-Party Talks."

The Chinese professors claimed North Korea "has said that it wants a peaceful environment to focus on its economic reconstruction, and implement new economic policies and strengthen economic cooperation with China and Russia. But the latest US-ROK military drills have forced the DPRK to react differently." It has renewed its threats against the U.S. and South Korea in self defense and Beijing will have to back Pyongyang.

The situation on the Peninsula is directly related to China's security. The Peninsula has always been a strategic buffer zone for China, so the security dilemma there has created uncertainty for China's peaceful development. Besides, the US is using the Peninsula issue both as a tool to contain China and an excuse to return to East Asia. But Washington's attempt to use the joint military drills with Seoul to deter Pyongyang has been a failure.

So once again, the hope that Beijing will be a "responsible stakeholder" in the international system appears dashed. For China, the Cold War has not thawed on the Korean peninsula since the 1950s. The communist regime wants America to pull back from its alliances in the region (with Japan as well as South Korea). Beijing can then turn the adjacent seas into Chinese lakes as its diplomats and military commanders tried to do all last summer and into the fall.