Earlier this month, the North Korean government said it had completed the reprocessing of 8,000 used nuclear fuel rods, hinting that it already had the ability to produce nuclear weapons. The statement returned the North Korea nuclear crisis to the international spotlight. Pyong-yang's nuclear threats are aimed at gaining economic aid and diplomatic recognition from the US, as well as a non-aggression treaty. Pyongyang's aggressive attempt to seek interaction with the US has put China in a rather embarrassing position.China is now playing a far more active role in the North Korean crisis than it did in the past.
On July 1, Chinese Vice Minister of Foreign Affairs Wang Yi (王毅) visited the US and discussed North Korea with US officials. Earlier in the month, South Korean President Roh Moo-hyun visited China and North Korea was the foremost issue on his visit. After the crisis escalated in mid-July, Foreign Minister Li Zhaoxing (李肇星) spoke to US Secretary of State Colin Powell by telephone and exchanged views. On July 17, China's other Vice Minister of Foreign Affairs Dai Bingguo (戴秉國) began a visit to the US, during which he met with Powell, Vice President Dick Cheney and National Security Advisor Condoleezza Rice. Dai had earlier visited Pyongyang and handed over a letter written by President Hu Jintao (胡錦濤) to North Korean leader Kim Jung-il.
Following China's vigorous coordination, Kim no longer insists on opposing the multilateral talks proposed by the US.
The North Korea issue has gone through many twists and turns, but Beijing's action has been the most vigorous this time. I believe it has to do with the new diplomacy thinking and strategy of the new leadership headed by Hu and Premier Wen Jiabao (溫家寶). Former president Jiang Zemin (江澤民) attached more importance to relations with the leading powers and his own image as the leader of a big nation on the international stage. Guided by such thinking, Sino-US relations became an overriding, all-important consideration in China's diplomatic strategy. Regional politics were neglected in comparison.
However, the first country Hu visited after taking office was not the US. Instead, he went to Russia and Europe. This demonstrated an adjustment in China's diplomatic thinking. The fact that Li is a former ambassador to the US explains the high level of importance still attached to Sino-American relations.
In reality, however, Dai is the primary implementer of China's diplomatic policy. He previously headed the Chinese Communist Party's international liaison department. The focus of his work has always been relations with neighboring countries.
One can see a hint of the new thinking here. China has not only taken vigorous action on the North Korea issue, but has also strength-ened the country's role in regional politics. Beijing has also joined hands with ASEAN. China's new thinking will focus on cultivating its influence in regional politics in order to gain leverage in international relations, thereby forcing the US to cooperate with Beijing instead of passively seeking such cooperation.
In the US, President George W. Bush's hardline diplomatic policies are now under suspicion. He is anxious to resolve the North Korea issue diplomatically in order to reduce his troubles. This has provided China with a perfect opportunity to put its new diplomatic approach to use.