China must stop protecting rogue N. Korean
Published On Mon May 31 2010
China has been treating its neighbors, and the world, to a
demonstration of why its rising power is not necessarily to be welcomed.
Though it has become undeniable that its neighbor and client, North
Korea, committed an act of war by sinking a South Korean warship in
March, Beijing continues to shield the loathsome regime of Kim Jong-il.
An authoritative investigation by a multinational commission has
produced fragments of the torpedo fired by the North’s submarine, yet
Chinese officials continue to pretend they don’t know the facts of what
happened. Their public statements are limited to empty calls for
A visit last week to Beijing and Seoul by Secretary
of State Hillary Rodham Clinton served, at least, to put China on the
spot. Ms. Clinton rightly pressed the Chinese leadership to consider the
commission’s 400-page report. She spoke publicly about the need for “a
strong but measured response” to the incident as well as cooperation on
the future direction of North Korea, which some experts believe may be
China’s best response came Friday when Premier Wen
Jiabao, on a visit to Seoul, reportedly told President Lee Myun-bak in a
closed meeting that Beijing would not protect the North if it concluded
that the North was responsible. South Korean officials took that as a
hint that China might not oppose Mr. Lee’s plan to seek a U.N. Security
Council resolution condemning the Kim regime. Yet China has offered no
sign that it will take any action of its own to pressure the North,
though it has far more leverage than any other country. Indeed,
President Hu Jintao hosted Mr. Kim this month — and probably committed
to supply him with more aid — even after the naval attack.
short term China’s behavior has benefited the United States. Watching
Beijing defend the indefensible probably helped the Japanese government
settle a dispute with the Obama administration over a U.S. base on
Okinawa. It has shown South Koreans as well as people throughout Asia
why the United States remains an indispensable guarantor of security in
Still, an end to the crisis between the Koreas will
require a more responsible approach by China. Abstaining from a Security
Council resolution is not enough; Beijing must act decisively to
restrain Mr. Kim from further provocations. The events of the past week
are a sign that China cannot prop up a criminal client state and also be
regarded as benign in its growing power. Sooner rather than later, it
will have a choice to make.
Today’s lesson: With great power comes great responsibility.