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China should not lose opportunity to stop N. Korea's nuclear ambition

China should not lose opportunity to stop N. Korea's nuclear ambition

Posted May. 05, 2017 07:15,   

Updated May. 05, 2017 07:19


North Korea's state-run Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) on Wednesday denounced China for cooperating with the United States on sanctioning Pyongyang, calling Beijing's move an "intolerable rash act of negating the basis of (North Korea-China) relationship and eliminating the sublime tradition of friendship." The KCNA commentary also blamed China for "crossing without hesitation the red line" in the bilateral ties.

"One must clearly understand that (North Korea's) line of access to nukes for the existence and development of the country can neither be changed nor shaken and that the DPRK will never beg for the maintenance of friendship with China, risking its nuclear program which is as precious as its own life, no matter how valuable the friendship is," KCNA said. It is extremely rare for the North to directly denounce China in such a harsh language.

It seems that China's strengthened pressure on North Korea following last month's China-U.S. summit has stimulated Pyongyang. The North also complained about China's establishment of diplomatic relationship with South Korea 25 years ago and Chinese President Xi Jinping's invitation of the then South Korean President Park Geun-hye to a victory day event in Beijing in September 2015.

However, China's state-run Huanqiu Shibao newspaper said in its editorial on Thursday that the Sino-North Korean Mutual Aid and Cooperation Friendship Treaty aims to "promote friendly cooperation between the two countries in various fields and safeguard regional peace and security." The editorial went on to say, "North Korea's pursuit of nuclear technology has impaired its own security as well as the security of the region, and it has also jeopardized China's national security. This has violated the principles of the treaty."

It is inspiring that China, which unilaterally protected North Korea regardless of Pyongyang's provocations, has finally realized the severity of the North Korean nuclear issue and has a different strategic calculation toward Pyongyang.

The treaty was signed by North Korean President Kim Il Sung and Chinese Premier Zhou Enlai in July 1961. Article 2 of the treaty provides that "in the event of one of the parties being subjected to armed attack by any state or several states together and thus being involved in a state of war, the other party shall immediately render military and other assistance by all means at its disposal." However, China recently indicated through the Huanqiu Shibao that Beijing will not intervene militarily if the United States conducts a surgical strike on North Korea's nuclear facilities. This suggests a change in the nature of the treaty, which is a crucial part in the North Korea-China relations.

North Korea's strong protest against China indicates that sanctions against Pyongyang are taking effect. If China further tightens up its pressure on the North, including a halt in oil supply, Kim Jong Un would not last long. However, there still are concerns that Beijing will only pretend to cooperate with the U.S. this time again because China has long regarded the disappearance of a buffer zone with the U.S. Forces Korea following the North's collapse as a greater risk in its strategic interest than Pyongyang's nuclear development.

It is time that China thought twice about its approach. The Trump administration has made scrapping North Korea's nuclear program its top foreign policy priority, seeing it as direct threat to the U.S. security. While China may want to maintain the status quo through dialogue, there always exist U.S. pressure on China and strike against the North unless Pyongyang scraps its nuclear program. It would be in Beijing's long-term interest to at least cooperate with Seoul, Washington and Tokyo in removing the North Korean "time bomb." China should not lose this opportunity to frustrate Kim Jong Un's nuclear ambition at the risk of deteriorating its ties with Pyongyang.