To forestall a US military strike, Beijing could no longer remain an onlooker, but had to actively and directly intervene. This would explain why Beijing also took the initiative to host the “six-party talks” (involving North and South Korea also, the US, Japan and Russia) to chair and coordinate the consultations on North Korea’s denuclearization.
The forum began in August 2003 and went through five rounds of formal meetings until the end of 2008. The participants, at China’s behest, produced in September 2005 “The Joint Statement on the Principles of Denuclearization in the Korean Peninsula,” in which North Korea consented to its denuclearization and the concrete steps to achieve this, in exchange for security reassurance, diplomatic recognition and economic assistance by the US, South Korea and Japan.
However, both China and North Korea were the big winners, as the six-party talks removed the possibility of US military attack and provided the cover and time needed for Pyongyang to continue its research and development into nuclear arms and long-range missile programs.
Through skillful management and manipulation of the multilateral forum, Beijing boosted its reputation as an international peacemaker and, on several occasions, obtained special favors from Bush to rein in Chen Shui-bian (陳水扁), Taiwan’s pro-independence former president.
On the contrary, it should be strongly pointed out that the Chinese leadership does not worry about a nuclear-armed North Korea. Furthermore, if the US and the UN can be trusted, Chinese military and state-owned enterprises have played leading roles in aiding Pyongyang’s development of missile systems and nuclear technologies.
In fact, Pyongyang continues to take Chinese aid and support for granted, because both sides have maintained a symbiotic relationship.
North Korea has served as a valuable strategic buffer state shielding China from US troops stationed in South Korea and Japan. Further, Chinese leaders believe that China’s national interests are best served by a stable Kim regime and Beijingwill do what it takes to safeguard the status quo in the Korean peninsula, including the division of North and South Korea.
North Korea’s state media reiterated not long ago Pyongyang’s commitment to building nuclear weapons. The country’s Rodong Sinmun newspaper asserted that North Korea’s “measures for bolstering nuclear deterrents are an exercise of the legitimate right to defend the sovereignty and security of the nation.”
If Obama seeks to “outsource” North Korea’s denuclearization to Xi, that will truly be mission impossible.
As long as the US continues its “pivot to Asia,” which is strengthening alliances with Japan, South Korea, the Philippines and Vietnam, and providing sophisticated arms to Taiwan, it is seen as targeting China. While the US continues to aim at China, do not expect Xi to do Obama’s bidding.
Parris Chang is chair professor of general education at Toko University and CEO of the Taiwan Institute of Political, Economic and Strategic Studies.