China and Russia Continue Cold War Backing of North Korea

Based on secret U.S. State Department cables from 2009 and early 2010 provided to it by WikiLeaks, the liberal British Guardian newspaper ran a story Nov. 29 claiming, "China has signaled its readiness to accept Korean reunification and is privately distancing itself from the North Korean regime." The news story was timed to coincide with joint U.S.-South Korean naval exercises in the Yellow Sea against which China had made loud protests.  

These earlier Chinese claims now seem to have been part of a disinformation campaign meant to buy Beijing time to help North Korea get through its post-Kim Jong Il transition and deter outside intervention.

China, with the support of Russia, have put on a full court press to protect North Korea from any retaliation for Pyongyang's artillery barrage of Yeonpyeong Island on Nov. 23, which killed four South Koreans. Beijing has called for a resumption of the Six Party talks which have been its main diplomatic vehicle for entangling the U.S., Japan and South Korea in a fruitless "dialogue" as North Korea has moved ahead with its nuclear program since 2003.  

"The parties concerned should keep calm, exercise restraint and work to bring the situation back onto the track of dialogue and negotiation," Chinese Foreign Minister Yang Jiechi said on Dec. 14, adding "Displays of power and confrontations are not solutions to problems and not in the interests of related parties." Yet, this is exactly the behavior in which North Korea has engaged since its second nuclear test in May, 2009. This was followed in July by a long-range missile test. In August, it completed the reprocessing of spend nuclear fuel rods to obtain weapons grade plutonium. In March, 2010, a North Korean submarine sank the South Korean corvette Cheonan with the loss of 46 lives. In November, North Korea showed a visiting American scientist a new uranium enrichment facility. Only a few days later, Yeonpyeong Island was shelled. Pyongyang has suffered no retaliation for any of these provocations, only some scolding which Chinese diplomacy and economic support have allayed.


Over the weekend, Yang was joined by Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov in urging "restraint" on the part of South Korea. Moscow called an emergency meeting of the UN Security Council on Sunday in response to Seoul's plans to hold a live fire exercise on Yeonpyeong Island. Action was blocked, however, when China refused to join a majority of UNSC members in condemning North Korea for the Nov. 23 attack.


The Chinese Communist Party newspaper Global Times in an editorial Monday blamed the United States for its "destructive role in Northeast Asia" and charged, "The protracted US backing of a vindictive South Korea has pushed the peninsula to the brink of war." The editorial argued,


It is time to take a closer look at the damaging power of the US role in Northeast Asia. At this critical moment of war and peace, Asian countries need to escape a Cold War mentality and maintain regional interests at heart.


US President Barack Obama has won a Nobel Peace Prize. If a second Korean war should break out during his second term in office, a war he did nothing to prevent, would his aura of peace be shattered?


But the ruling party's paper then concluded with another statement of Beijing's hard line, "China is never going to bend to any challenge from outside. Should the troubled waters of the peninsula wet China's feet, somebody else may already be drowning."  It is thus apparent that Washington and its Asian allies can expect no help from Beijing in controlling a Pyongyang regime to which the Chinese remain committed. The allies will have to muster the strength and courage to meet the threat themselves.