- Special Sections
- Public Notices
We were treated to a dangerous diplomatic dance routine in the final weeks of 2010.
It began just before Thanksgiving when North Korea shelled an island controlled by South Korea, killing some people. South Korea returned fire with heavy artillery. Over the next few weeks, North Korea threatened Armageddon if South Korea held a planned artillery firing exercise from the island. Nothing happened, however, when the South Koreans carried out the live fire drill.
I think we witnessed a rather dangerous diplomatic dance during this time.
In the aftermath of North Korea’s act of aggression, China refused to condemn the action of its nasty little buddy. However, there was open public criticism of North Korea in China, including criticism in the Chinese press. Some suggested that their government needs to reconsider whether it’s in China’s national interest to continue its relationship with North Korea.
None of this would have happened without Chinese government approval. The press is state controlled and any Chinese citizen who dared publicly question a government policy would quickly find himself being called in for a little chat with the police. It’s obvious that the Chinese government wanted these things expressed in public.
My thought is that Kim Jong Il wanted to start a war with South Korea, thinking that he could actually win, presuming on Chinese help. Perhaps he felt a short, victorious military confrontation with South Korea would enhance the domestic prestige of his regime. In China, however, the people in charge of China’s state-owned businesses made it clear to top decision makers that a war in the Korean peninsula would not benefit Chinese business.
All this public criticism that the Chinese government permitted was an effort to create space for China to back away from North Korea should Kim be foolish enough to start a war. I’m sure that Chinese diplomats passed him a message, set in polite terms, that North Korea would be unwise to count on Chinese help, should it start a war.
This message was reinforced by the arrival of an American aircraft carrier battle group to carry out naval exercises with South Korea’s navy. Last summer, the Chinese government went ballistic when a similar exercise was announced. The U. S. ended up moving the exercise to the other side of the Korean peninsula to calm the Chinese down. This time, all the Chinese government did was warn us to keep our warships out of its 200-mile exclusive economic zone.
The reason for the change is that China wanted our aircraft carrier to come there, although they weren’t about to invite us to send it, or openly admit this. It was part of their message to Kim Jong Il. “Dear Mr. Kim, if you start a war, you are on your own. Oh, and by the way, do you see that American aircraft carrier? This is a reminder of what you’re up against.”
Although China aggressively pursues its maritime territorial claims, often bullying its neighbors, China does not want a hot war. That would be bad for business and be enormously risky.
So far China’s rulers have avoided this. They’ve learned not to back us into a corner on Taiwan and are pursuing an effort to try to reunify the island with the mainland by peaceful means.
North Korea, on the other hand, is a different matter. It’s going to be a real challenge for Chinese statesmanship to keep that squirrels’ nest in Pyonyang from starting a war, a war that China could get sucked into.
Nevertheless, China’s leaders still seem determined to engage in the diplomatic dance of supporting North Korea, while avoiding war. Let’s hope that nobody makes any missteps in 2011.