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Can China Be Trusted As Mediator?

Posted February. 14, 2005 22:32,   


After North Korea`s shocking announcement of its nuclear weapon capability, the focus is now on China`s reaction, with conflicting views on whether China will use its influence over North Korea or whether it has the intention to bring the reclusive regime back to negotiation table.

China`s Influence over North Korea-

The showcase of China`s influence over North Korea was highlighted in three-way talks between the U.S., China, and North Korea in 2003. China stopped the oil supply to North Korea for a few days, citing "technical difficulties." North Korea later reversed its stance and participated in the talks.

James Lilley, the U.S. Ambassador to China, in an interview to be released in the February 13 issue of Time magazine, cited the effectiveness of energy provision strategy, saying, "North Korea would definitely resume talks if China mentioned a 10 percent decline in the country`s oil supply per month starting immediately. Of course, that will not stop North Korea from exercising military parades and demonstrations to show-off."

But others predict that a desperate North Korea would not act as they used to. China sent several high-ranking officials, including China`s Vice Minister of Foreign Affairs Dai Bingguo, to Pyongyang before the first, second and third stages of the six-way talks. A senior official of the Communist Party of China (CPC), Li Changchun, in a visit to Pyongyang in November of last year, however, failed to achieve his goal of bringing North Korea to the negotiation table.

Light and Shade of Active Mediation-

It is not clear whether China still has a strong intention to be a mediator. China has maintained its stance against Pyongyang`s nuclear arsenal possession, pursuing the policy of "no nuclearization on the Korean peninsula". For this purpose, China volunteered to play a mediator role and even provided Diao Yu Tai as conference venue. North Korea also used China as its sole supporter. Recently, however, China agreed with the U.S. that ongoing issues surrounding North Korean nuclear weapons and Pyongyang`s illegal export of Uranium Fluorine 6 to Libya should not be overlooked. According to one U.S. official, who wanted to remain anonymous, the unexpected action by North Korea embarrassed China. On February 12, the U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice called Chinese Foreign Minister Li Zhaoxing to discuss the matter.

Other experts say China may be reluctant to be an active mediator because the country, after North Korea issue is solved, will probably be Washington`s next target. Kim Sung-han, a professor of Institute of Foreign Affairs and National Security (IFANS), said, "the U.S. will move on China`s human rights issues once the North Korean nuclear weapon issue is settled. Since China has been extremely sensitive on its human right issues, an instant solution of North Korean issue may not be desirable from Beijing`s stance."

Seung-Ryun Kim srkim@donga.com