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China's opportunity to act decisively

By John E. Carey - posted Thursday, 12 October 2006

Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said on Tuesday that the language being used by China to denounce North Korea after Monday’s reported nuclear test was unprecedented.

Dr Rice said there was a real chance that China could act strongly against North Korea and support US calls for tough sanctions in the UN.

“This was a serious step over an important line [by North Korea]," Rice said. “China is using language they have used maybe four or five times in the past few decades and never about North Korea.”


But China has made promises to act before and then balked. Before North Korea’s July 4 missile tests and again before this week’s nuclear test, China said it was determined to stop North Korea from further provoking the world community. And China, with the assistance of Russia, has participated in fighting US calls for greater UN action against Iran and its nuclear quest.

Now that a nuclear test has reportedly occurred in North Korea, what is China going to do?

China's Ambassador to the United Nations said on Tuesday that the Security Council must give a “firm, constructive, appropriate but prudent response” to North Korea. Wang Guangya told reporters that North Korea must face “some punitive actions” for testing a nuclear device.

“The nuclear test will undoubtedly exert a negative impact on China and North Korea's relations,” said China's Foreign Ministry spokesman Liu Jianchao. He reiterated that Monday's test was done “flagrantly, and in disregard of the international community's shared opposition”.

And who is in a better position to apply “some punitive actions” to North Korea? Who is in a better position to exhibit the “shared opposition” to North Korea?

China controls North Korea's energy supplies; and with winter coming it is difficult to imagine that fuel sanctions from China could be overcome by North Korea, with supplies currently on hand, for long.


China also supplies food and other aid to North Korea.

China is highly motivated to maintain peace and stability on the Korean Peninsula. China fears a mass migration of hungry North Koreans into China and China wants to continue its own remarkable economic growth without further (unplanned) spending on an arms race. China wants a quiescent North and South Korea, Japan and US.

The BBC's Dan Griffiths wrote on Tuesday, “China wants stability on the Korean Peninsula; the last thing it wanted was an international crisis right on its doorstep”.

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About the Author

John E. Carey has been a military analyst for 30 years.

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