The US is giving China a “mission impossible” by insisting that it exert pressure on North Korea to halt its nuclear program or face US consequences, Beijing’s ambassador said on Thursday.
“There is one thing that worries me a little bit, and even more than a little bit, is that we’re very often told that China has such an influence over DPRK [Democratic People’s Republic of Korea] and we should force the DPRK to do this or that,” Ambassador Cui Tiankai (崔天凱) told a Washington think tank.
“Otherwise the United States would have to do something that would hurt China’s security interests. You see you are giving us a mission impossible,” he said.
Cui, who has been China’s envoy to Washington since April last year, said he did not “think this was very fair, I don’t think this is a constructive way of working with each other.”
Washington has been leaning on Beijing to take a larger role in reining in the regime of North Korean leader Kim Jong-un.
Cui told an audience at the US Institute of Peace that Beijing was very worried by the threat of nuclear arms on the Korean Peninsula and the risk of another war, armed conflict or chaos.
“The peninsula is just at our doorstep, any chaos, any armed conflict there will certainly have cross-border effects on China,” Cui said. “But this problem cannot be solved by China alone. We need cooperation among the relevant parties.”
The ambassador also called for deeper military-to-military ties between the US and China, even as US Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel tours the Asia region on a trip which saw him visit China.
Despite progress over the past few years, strengthened military relations were needed for the new model of relationship which the two nations have agreed to set up, the ambassador said.
“Mil-to-mil relations would be an indispensable part of this new model,” Cui said, arguing that otherwise “this new model would not be effective, and I don’t think it would stand up for very long.”
Hagel and Chinese military leaders, including Minister of National Defense Chang Wanquan (常萬全), traded warnings and rebukes on Tuesday as they clashed over Beijing’s territorial disputes with its neighbors.
“He had a very substantive and direct exchange with his Chinese counterpart,” Cui said. “I think maybe this is not a bad thing. Maybe this is a good thing.”
Cui, who was China’s ambassador to Japan between 2007 and 2009, said there was no room for concessions on territorial integrity and urged “mutual respect” from Washington over its interests.
“Our relations with Japan are much longer than your relations with Japan,” Cui told moderator Stephen Hadley, who served as national security adviser to former US president George W. Bush.
Similarly, the ambassador deflected questions about China’s troubled relations with some of its other neighbors: “We have so many neighbors. You only have two.”
He also said that the US military could “greatly enhance mutual understanding” if it would stop its reconnaissance activities in China’s exclusive economic zone, which extends over areas disputed with many of its neighbors.
“Still better if you could stop arms sales to Taiwan. That would help us a great deal,” Cui said, with a wry smile.
Cui borrowed a 2008 campaign slogan from Obama, saying he hoped Americans would be optimistic about relations with China “and say again, ‘Yes, we can.’”