Paul Lachine

China’s North Korean Contradictions

WikiLeaks’ release of American diplomatic cables between 2004 and 2010 contains considerable discussion about China’s policy on North Korea. But the problem is that China's only policy on the North is to remain ambivalent and indecisive.

BEIJING – The release by WikiLeaks of American diplomatic cables written between 2004 and 2010 contains considerable material on China’s policy toward North Korea. The leaks supposedly unveil a Chinese readiness to accept the reunification of Korea in favor of South Korea. This proposition almost beggars belief because it starkly contradicts China’s actions in failing to openly condemn North Korea for its sinking of the South Korean warship Cheonan in March, or for the recent artillery attack on South Korea’s Yeonpyeong Island.

Similarly, rather than demand that North Korea stop its brinkmanship, China’s leaders have called for emergency consultations involving the United States, Japan, Russia, China, the United Nations, and South Korea. None of these actions suggest a willingness to make the North Korean regime pay the price it deserves for its provocations.

So why doesn’t China move more decisively to rein in North Korea? The conventional wisdom is that China doesn’t want to lose North Korea as a buffer between it and the US military in South Korea. Thus China does what it must, shoring up the Kim family dynasty to prevent Korea from reunifying on South Korean terms. Indeed, the controversy in Chinese eyes is not really about Korean reunification – few in Beijing speculate that the endgame will be otherwise – but to what extent reunification can be achieved without damaging China’s security concerns.

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