Tue, Feb 25, 2003 - Page 8 News List

Editorial: Keeping an eye on Beijing

US Secretary of State Colin Powell is in South Korea today, after visits to Beijing and Tokyo, in the hope of gaining these nations' support for the US position against Iraq and North Korea. Powell was hoping to gain Beijing's support for a UN resolution authorizing the use of force against Iraq and for China to pressure Pyongyang to make compromises. But Powell left Beijing empty-handed, having been politely spurned by Vice President and Communist Party General Secretary Hu Jintao (胡錦濤), who asked the US to seek political solutions to both issues.

The crisis over North Korea's nuclear program has deepened as Pyongyang rattles its sabers in Washington's direction. As North Korea's tradition ally, China has relations with Pyongyang that are unmatched by any other country. Every year, China provides oil and food to North Korea at prices far lower than the international market. All this has made the international community think that Pyongyang will not take Beijing's opinions lightly. With its veto power in the UN Security Council and its influence on non-aligned countries, China also possesses considerable leverage on the issue of a US attack on Iraq.

Some people have even suggested that the US should make concessions on the Taiwan issue in exchange for Chinese support in the Iraq and North Korea issues. This is not only wishful thinking, it could be disastrous in the long run.

China and the US share a desire not to see North Korea cross the nuclear threshold. However, Beijing does not support US military action against Iraq, nor does it support US military action or economic sanctions against North Korea. That is because economic sanctions will worsen the poverty in North Korea and could lead to turmoil that might affect China. For this reason, Beijing will not cut off economic aid to Pyongyang.

China hopes to have the UN Security Council handle the North Korea issue. This runs counter to US policy. Even if Washington does make concessions on the issue of arms sales to Taiwan, China may still not side with the US.

Beijing is an important provider of weapons to North Korea and Iraq. It has maintained diplomatic and geopolitical influence in those countries via arms sales and economic aid. In fact, as China's rise to the status of an Asian regional power becomes more obvious, it will inevitably become a strategic competitor of the US, both in the region and globally.

If the US sacrifices this country's military or diplomatic interests for the sake of short-term benefits, it will help increase China's pressure and military threat against Taiwan. The loss of an important pawn like Taiwan may cause the entire US defense line in East Asia to collapse. This is simply not worthwhile.

Powell should be very clear about the long and the short benefits of any offer from Beijing. Others in the US should also understand the contention between US short-term and long-term strategic interests.

The way the US handles the North Korea and Iraq issues will mold the future international order. Even if the US attack on Iraq and its handling of the North Korea issue may not have a direct impact on this country, an early response from the government is still necessary to cope with the strategic changes in Northeast Asia.

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