This is not the first time that Pyongyang has remained defiant and ignored the wishes of its “big brother.” In March, Chinese President Hu Jintao (胡錦濤), at the behest of US President Barack Obama, tried to rein in the North, asking Pyongyang to scrap its plan to launch a satellite the following month. The launch went ahead, but failed.
Why is Pyongyang able to reject Beijing’s requests with impunity? The reality is that the Chinese leadership sees its national interests as being best served by a stable and secure North Korean regime, and is determined to do what it takes to preserve the “status quo” on the Korean Peninsula.
Unlike the US and its allies, China is not worried about having a nuclear-armed North Korea, and strategists in Beijing view Pyongyang as an important asset, not only as a strategic buffer, but also a useful diplomatic pawn in its dealings with the US, Japan and South Korea.
Successive US administrations since the l990s have sought Beijing’s support in trying to restrain the North, but without success. The US’ policy of engagement and its dependence on China’s goodwill to achieve the North’s denuclearization do not work at all.
For his second term, Obama needs a new strategy, one that does not outsource the problem of Pyongyang’s nuclear weapons to Beijing, which is pursuing its own, quite different, agenda. The current US approach of seemingly endless dialogue on the North that yields no practical results is a well-worn path, a path that will eventually lead to a nuclear-armed North Korea.
Parris Chang is chair professor of General Education at Toko University and chief executive of the Taiwan Institute for Political, Economic and Strategic Studies.