China in a delicate position regarding future of longtime ally North Korea
BY JIM LANDERSThe Dallas Morning News
DANDONG, China - Zhou Renlie marched across the Friendship Bridge spanning the Yalu River here as a teenage Chinese soldier ready to fight the Americans and save communism in Korea. Mission accomplished, he limped home a year later on frozen feet with shrapnel wounds peppered across his arms and legs.
He would not do it again.
Today Zhou, 72, feels North Korea is a dangerous feudal dynasty. China, he said, should join with the United States to force Pyongyang to give up its nuclear weapons.
"The North Korean people are very poor - so poor they may have an uprising against their government," Zhou said. "What does it want to do with these weapons? Maybe they will sell them to the Arab terrorist countries."
U.S. officials hope China will come round to Zhou's view. They want China's help to forge a peaceful way out of the Korean nuclear crisis.
From the U.S. perspective, the alternatives are truly awful. A war to disarm North Korea could see Seoul, South Korea's capital, destroyed by North Korean artillery. Do nothing, and North Korea might soon be armed with nuclear-tipped intercontinental missiles capable of reaching the United States, or become a nuclear supermarket open to terrorists.
"Only one country can back them down, and that's China," said former CIA Director Jim Woolsey.
But Beijing shows no sign yet of coercing North Korea to quit pursuing nuclear weapons, despite North Korea's defiant Feb. 10 declaration that it has a nuclear arsenal.
China says it shares the goal of eliminating nuclear weapons but disagrees over the approach.
"China is also very concerned with the latest developments," said Wang Donghua of China's Ministry of Foreign Affairs. "We also would like to see early resumption of the six-party talks. We are working in that direction."
But Wang argued that Chinese sanctions against North Korea would not work.
"If China imposed sanctions, would it compel North Korea to come back? I wouldn't agree with that," he said. "If we did, people would also seek to see the North Korean regime topple. That is not our objective."
China supplies nearly all of North Korea's oil and much of its food. Curbing or cutting that economic aid could cripple North Korea, but even that might not be enough to get the North's leader, Kim Jong Il, to give up his weapons, Chinese scholars say.
Zhang Yunling, director of the Institute of Asia-Pacific Studies at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, said China should toughen its approach by denying North Korea help for reforming its economy, but without cutting off aid.
China's decision to become a market economy could show North Korea how to pull itself together without blackmailing the world with nuclear arms, but it's up to South Korean investors - not China - to provide the capital for economic transformation, Zhang said.
China fears the collapse of North Korea, a development that could send hundreds of thousands of hungry refugees flooding into China. A collapse would also have a subtler impact: A North Korea alienated from China would allow the U.S. military to ignore the Korean peninsula in any conflict with China over Taiwan.
"If there is a confrontation with Taiwan and the (U.S. Navy's) 7th Fleet, what value then can North Korea have? Minimal value if it collapses," said Professor Shi Yinhing of Beijing's Renmin University. "So it is not denuclearization that is China's number one goal. Number one is peace on the Korean peninsula."
Zhou was a political officer in the 66th Army when he crossed the Friendship Bridge on Oct. 19, 1950. United Nations forces under the command of Gen. Douglas MacArthur had routed the North Korean army and captured Pyongyang. China's leader Mao Zedong called for volunteers.
During a battle with Turkish U.N. troops, only 12 of the 400 men in Zhou's battalion survived, he said. The battalion's commanding officer was killed jamming a hand grenade into a tank turret.
"I'm very sad when I recall these things," Zhou said. "Many of my very close friends died."
Today the ties formed through 300,000 Chinese deaths in the Korean War are frayed and thin. Chinese officials say there is no longer any military alliance with Pyongyang.
"China could clarify to North Korea that the possession of nuclear weapons does not protect it or guard its security," said Qi Baoliang, research professor at the government-run China Institutes of Contemporary International Relations. "I personally think China should make clear to North Korea that if it keeps neglecting the persuasion of China and makes the situation deteriorate further, it may not be possible for China to continue to protect North Korea."
But Qi, like most of the Chinese interviewed for this story, argues that the greater burden is on the United States.
Chinese urge the Bush administration to stop talking of North Korea as an "outpost of tyranny" and negotiate with Pyongyang to resolve the nuclear weapons crisis.
"China has an important role, but the key to ultimate resolution of this crisis is reconciliation between United States and North Korea," Qi said.
North Korea's nuclear ambitions started emerging in the early 1990s, when Pyongyang sought to use its weapons program to bargain for economic assistance. The United States and North Korea came close to war in 1994 before the two sides agreed to a freeze of North Korea's nuclear program, followed by eventual disarmament. In exchange, the United States, Japan and South Korea promised fuel oil and two large nuclear power plants using technology less susceptible to the manufacture of weapons-grade materials.
The Bush administration took office in 2001 skeptical of North Korea's compliance. Bush called North Korea, Iran and Iraq an "axis of evil" aiding terrorists and pursuing weapons of mass destruction. In 2002, Washington confronted North Korea with intelligence showing Pyongyang was pursuing a secret weapons program based on enriched uranium rather than the plutonium route suspended by the 1994 deal.
Early in 2003, North Korea said it could make nuclear weapons and threatened to test one or sell bomb-grade materials to other countries.
That alarmed Beijing. The U.S. military was preparing to invade Iraq, which put teeth in Bush's demands that rogue states abandon weapons programs. China agreed to host negotiations among North Korea, South Korea, the United States, China, Japan and Russia - the six-party talks - aimed at the elimination of nuclear weapons programs on the Korean peninsula.
"Being an activist in the six-party talks doesn't come easy to them. It's quite a departure," former State Department nonproliferation head Robert Einhorn said of the Chinese. "They did it because, at the time, we were heading toward war in Iraq, and the Chinese feared we might be prepared to take it that far in North Korea as well."
From the U.S. perspective, the six-way talks added North Korea's two historic protectors and benefactors - Russia and China - to the campaign to halt the spread of nuclear weapons. There would be no protection left if North Korea once again broke its promises.
Before North Korea agreed to attend the six-party talks, China briefly halted oil supplies, blaming "technical difficulties." Technical or deliberate, North Korea got the message and agreed to participate.
Three rounds were held. Another round of talks was scheduled for September, but North Korea preferred to wait for the outcome of the U.S. presidential elections.
Last year, several U.S. congressmen visited Pyongyang. They were told North Korea wanted to see whether the Bush administration was still intent on "regime change" in Pyongyang.
Yu Meihua, director of East Asian studies with the Beijing-based China Reform Forum think tank, agrees with Pyongyang that the root of the problem is the Bush administration. Yu, 62, lived in North Korea during the war and saw some of her classmates killed by U.S. bombs.
"It's very understandable from our point of view why North Korea will develop nuclear weapons to defend itself against an enemy determined to destroy it," she said.
U.S. and Chinese officials say Bush has assured China's President Hu Jintao that his policy does not call for regime change in North Korea. Yu said she's not convinced.
In the Korean War, North Korea was not a military power, she said. Now, with nuclear weapons, it will not be an easy antagonist.
"If you come after the Democratic Peoples Republic of Korea, they might throw one bomb - one bomb is enough," she said.
For now, the six-party talks are in abeyance while the United States, Japan, South Korea and Russia wait to see if China can bring North Korea back to the table.
"We think it imperative ... that China bring to bear the full weight of the significant influence it has with North Korea in order to secure the furtherance of our common goals: an end to all of North Korea's nuclear programs in a permanent and verifiable way," said Stephen Rademaker, assistant secretary of state for arms control.
But U.S.-China relations have soured recently over China's new law authorizing military force if Taiwan moves toward independence.
North Korea, meanwhile, makes bellicose statements aimed at Japan and the United States, while assuring Chinese diplomats it remains interested in negotiations.
If diplomacy and sanctions fail, Zhou's sense that the Korean people might rise up against Kim Jong Il could be the means to break the deadlock.
The differences across the Yalu River are starker than those that separated Berlin in 1989 before the Wall fell.
Dandong bustles with skyscrapers. North Korea's riverside city Sinuiju sits idle, its smokestacks empty. At night, the Chinese side of the river blazes with a rainbow of lights. The North Korean side is dark.
1982: U.S. satellites detect construction of a small nuclear reactor at Yongbyon.
1985: North Korea signs the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT), promising not to build a bomb and to open all sites to nuclear inspection.
1989: The United States detects construction of a larger nuclear reactor at Yongbyon capable of producing enough plutonium for 30 to 40 bombs a year. The CIA concludes North Korea has withdrawn enough spent fuel from the reactor to produce one or two nuclear bombs.
1990: North Korea threatens to withdraw from the treaty unless the United States removes all nuclear weapons from the Korean peninsula.
1991: The United States starts the pullout of nuclear weapons from South Korea. North and South Korea agree to denuclearize the peninsula.
1992: North Korea for the first time allows International Atomic Energy Agency inspectors to visit facilities; inspectors find inconsistencies but are refused access to a suspicious site.
1993: North Korea threatens to withdraw from NPT, suspends the threat, then repudiates the treaty; U.S. intelligence reports a "better than even" chance North Korea has one or two bombs.
1994: International inspectors find widespread violations; U.S. seeks economic sanctions that North Korea calls tantamount to a declaration of war. Former President Jimmy Carter and North Korean leader Kim Il Sung meet in Pyongyang and agree to a nuclear freeze. China promises to report the "Agreed Framework" negotiated among the United States, North Korea, South Korea and Japan providing fuel oil and construction of two nuclear reactors in return for dismantlement of North Korea's nuclear materials work.
1999: U.S. intelligence reports North Korea has more than 50 pounds of weapons-grade plutonium, enough for several bombs.
October 2000: Secretary of State Madeleine Albright visits Pyongyang.
March 2001: President Bush signals a North Korea policy review.
October 2002: Confronted with U.S. intelligence findings, North Korea confirms it has a secret uranium-based nuclear program.
April 2003: In talks with the United States and China, North Korea threatens to test a nuclear bomb or export nuclear materials.
September 2004: The last of three meetings for negotiations between North Korea, the United States, South Korea, Japan, Russia and China over the North's nuclear program.
Feb. 10, 2005: North Korea declares it has nuclear weapons and suspends participation in the six-party talks.
I have spent time in Ling Jang in Jalin Province it is right on the Yalu with a clear view into North Korea. In the last 10 years the Chinese side of the Yalu has prospered with new buildings, markets and businesses. The Chinese people have drastically inproved their standard of living with the help of US Joint Ventures. The people on the NK side of the river live in a poverty that rivals anything on earth. (Much worse than the old East Berlin /West Berlin situation) In the winter when the Yalu freezes there are NK raids into China for food. The people in the area are friendly to the NK plight but the PRK Govt will defend their new found wealth and prosperity. The area is very rural, think Chosin you USMC Vets, the next battle in those frozen mountains will be NK vPLA
bump for discussion
Not sure what to discuss, really. These two quotes pretty much sum up everything about it, IMHO:
North Korea is to China what Taiwan has been (and maybe still is) to the U.S.: a means to threaten the other side in the current biggest "Cold War".