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China`s Unwelcome Embrace

Posted May. 04, 2010 10:50,   


North Korean leader Kim Jong Il started his China visit via a train Monday. Just as he did in his four previous visits to that country, Kim kept his itinerary under wraps. Neither Beijing nor Pyongyang has made any official announcement. His tour is a type of undercover summit diplomacy unprecedented in the world. This illustrates once again that Kim is a cowardly leader who has no choice but to hide his identity even in China, the North’s closest ally.

The visit comes at the invitation of Beijing, and the timing is believed to reflect significant diplomatic intent. Chinese President Hu Jintao conveyed condolences and sympathy to the bereaved families of the dead crewmen of the Cheonan in his summit with South Korean President Lee Myung-bak 35 days after the vessel’s sinking Friday. President Lee said, “Fifty million South Koreans take the Cheonan sinking very seriously.” Nevertheless, Beijing accepted Kim’s visit just four days later. Had he considered Seoul’s anger over the sinking seriously, Hu would have rejected Kim’s visit.

Mounting evidence suggests North Korea was involved in the sinking. Invading South Korean waters, sinking a naval patrol boat, and killing 46 South Korean seamen are unforgivable acts of aggression. If the sinking proves to have been caused by an attack committed by Pyongyang, Kim must be held accountable. His China visit amid this situation could send the wrong signal to the world. If Hu embraces Kim, this will constitute granting of an indulgence to the most probable suspect behind the sinking. Kim can hardly be expected to confess to the incident. Beijing should shed its narrow-minded view of valuing its blood ties with Pyongyang and instead consider the sinking as a threat to peace in Northeast Asia. If China officially takes Kim’s side and helps save him, Beijing must also be held responsible.

North Korea is struggling under the weight of international economic sanctions, and has no choice but to depend on Chinese aid. Port facilities and shipbuilding dockyards in Dalian, China, where Kim visited, were field sites for the North to learn for its purported construction of the port of Rajin. Pyongyang is also eyeing the development of three northeastern provinces of China to boost bilateral economic ties and induce Chinese investment in the North. Kim could also propose the resumption of the six-party nuclear talks to dodge the pending crisis in his visit, as he did in his 2004 trip to China. He also could ask Beijing to approve his selection of his third son, Kim Jong Un, as heir apparent. If the Chinese accept Kim’s requests and turn a blind eye to the Cheonan sinking, the international community will consider China and North Korea in the same group.

As a permanent member of the U.N. Security Council, China has led international sanctions on North Korea. Beijing is obliged not to give economic and political gifts to Pyongyang, which has openly advocated possession of nuclear weapons apart from the Cheonan incident.