Thu, Mar 15, 2018 - Page 8 News List

EDITORIAL: Treat Beijing like Pyongyang

US President Donald Trump has agreed to meet with North Korean leader Kim Jong-un. The US president has long maintained that his predecessors have erred by allowing North Korea to flout international law, while China — which Trump says has the power and the influence to rein in the pariah state — has mostly sat on its hands.

A major obstacle to reining in North Korea is precisely its international pariah status, which cuts it off from the benefits of engaging with the international community while allowing it to indulge in behavior that would not otherwise be countenanced.

There is speculation that Kim is hoping the talks will allow his country to be let back into the fold, on certain conditions. The US’ stance is that one of these conditions would be denuclearization.

It is arguable that Kim believes his posturing about potential nuclear weapons capability has contributed to this opportunity to come to the negotiating table with the US president. This is troubling, as it has the appearance of rewarding bad behavior.

If North Korea is allowed back into the international community, the expectation is that it would play by the rules. This is the importance of having, and insisting on adherence to, an international rules-based order, an idea central to a speech Australian Minister for Foreign Affairs Julie Bishop was expected to give ahead of a special ASEAN meeting in Sydney, according to a leaked draft seen by the Australian Financial Review.

Although the draft does not mention China by name, Beijing’s activities in the South China Sea, its increasing assertiveness and the regional instability that those activities threaten to spark, are widely thought to be the target of her words.

A quote from the draft on the necessity of adherence to the international rules-based order resonates particularly well with Taiwan’s predicament: “It places limitations on the extent to which countries use their economic or military power to impose unfair agreements on less powerful nations.”

If the international community actually insisted upon each member adhering to an international rules-based order, China would not be allowed to get away with bullying Taiwan.

Pyongyang has been able to get away with subverting the rules-based order of the international community due to its outsider status; Beijing, on the other hand, has been able to get away with flouting the rules, despite its insider status.

This has been possible because of China’s sheer economic and military might. Other nations feel they need to keep on Beijing’s good side because of the former and fear reprisals due to the latter.

That Beijing has been flouting international rules, despite its leadership pretensions is no news to governments around the world, and particularly not to those in the region.

A Reuters article published on Monday about Bishop’s draft speech quoted Nick Bisley, professor of international relations at Melbourne’s La Trobe University.

“Australia is trying to get ASEAN on side with the notion that China is a rule-breaker,” Bisley said.

If true, this is significant for Taiwan. Australia is an important regional player and a significant ally of the US. It has clout with ASEAN and is — finally — showing concern about China’s increasing assertiveness in the region.

The new approach the draft signals for the Australian government should lend more support to a truth that everyone knows, yet many prefer not to acknowledge: Beijing constantly flouts the international rules-based order — egregiously so in how it treats Taiwan.

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