Moscow (AFP) Oct 22, 2006
China emerged as the surprise star of Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice's tour last week to rally Asian support for sanctions against North Korea, after jittery allies Japan and South Korea balked at US plans for their roles in the clampdown. Rice and senior members of her delegation spoke glowingly of Beijing's determination to end the nuclear ambitions of its troublesome neighbor and long-time ally, which they said highlighted China's growing role as a strategic partner in confronting global crises.
The top US diplomat's tour took in Japan, South Korea, China and Russia -- Washington's partners in so-far failed disarmament negotiations with North Korea.
She was seeking to ensure full implementation of sanctions called for in a UN Security Council resolution passed after North Korea carried out its first nuclear test on October 9.
The sanctions include barring trade to or from North Korea of weapons-related material -- including possible searches and seizures of cargo -- and a financial clampdown on Pyongyang's military programs.
As Washington's main military allies in northeast Asia, Japan and South Korea were seen as obvious partners in implementing the measures.
Rice had hoped to draw both governments more closely into an informal US-led military alliance, the Proliferation Security Initiative, which Washington sees as the key tool for monitoring North Korean air and maritime cargo for possible smuggling of nuclear weapons materials.
But while Japanese and South Korean leaders voiced strong support for the UN sanctions, they also spoke in unison of the need to "ease tensions" with the unpredictable regime in North Korea and coax it back to the negotiating table.
Spooked by declarations from President George W. Bush and other US leaders that the North's nuclear test was "unacceptable" and that the US "cannot live with a nuclear North Korea" -- widely seen as thinly veiled threats to topple the regime of Kim Jong-Il -- both governments delayed any sanction decisions.
"They're afraid of escalating" a senior US official said following the meetings.
The head of Japan's Defense Agency, Fumio Kyuma, waited until after Rice ended her visit to Tokyo on Thursday to announce that Japan wanted to give diplomacy more time to work before taking a decision to join in searches of North Korean ships.
"We would like to wait and see the diplomatic efforts in pressing North Korea to abide by the United Nations Security Council resolution," he said.
South Korea also rebuffed pressure to curb major economic ventures it runs in North Korea as part of a so-called "sunshine policy" of engagement aimed at drawing Pyongyang out of its isolation.
Rice insisted repeatedly during her trip that she did "not come with a list of things" that governments should do in enforcing the sanctions.
And US officials said both South Korea and Japan were reviewing their policies and would fully cooperate with implementing the sanctions resolution, eventually. But the immediate results were meager.
"This is an early trip," Rice conceded. "Not everything will happen at once."
Ironically, it was China that provided the good news, despite its history of tensions with the Bush administration.
North Korea's main trade and aid provider and a long-time opponent of sanctions as a diplomatic weapon, China had in recent years been the biggest stumbling block to pressuring Pyongyang to end its nuclear program.
But US officials said China had been "humiliated" when North Korea ignored its entreaties and carried out the nuclear test.
Chinese leaders are now gravely concerned the North's unpredictable behavior could set off an arms race that would see its main regional rival, Japan, and possibly even Taiwan seek their own atomic arsenal, officials said.
Rice described Beijing's decision to support the UN sanctions resolution against its one-time client state as "remarkable" and "extraordinary", while one of her top aides hailed a "sea change" in China's attitude.
Following talks with China's top leaders, Rice said they have promised a "scrupulous" approach to controlling cargo moving across China's long land border with North Korea -- seen as critical to preventing illicit arms trade.
There were also reports Chinese banks had cut off money transfers to North Korea and that officials were considering curbing supplies of cheap oil.
Rice described the evolving relationship as a qualitative change from past years.
"Whenever you talk to the Chinese now, they begin by talking about the fact that the US-China relationship can be put to work solving problems, and that is a somewhat different perspective," she said.
Chinese Foreign Minister Li Zhaoxing said such cooperation "shows that China-US relations are taking on increasing global, strategic significance".
earlier related report
These moves were intended to ease some of the tensions that have emerged as a result of the North Korean nuclear crisis. It is not clear, though, that they will have this effect. They certainly will not help resolve the crisis. Here's why:
There is a general consensus that China has more influence over North Korea than any other country, and that Beijing thus has a greater possibility than anyone else (including Washington) to get Pyongyang to abandon its nuclear weapons program. Just how much influence China actually has with North Korea, of course, is an open question -- even in Beijing.
One thing, though, is clear: China is not doing as much as it could to pressure North Korea. China, along with Russia, worked to water down the U.N. Security Council resolution imposing sanctions on North Korea in response to its recent nuclear test. Even then, China has indicated that it will not interdict ships going to and from North Korea to inspect them for weaponry and other material the U.N. Security Council resolution (which China voted for) has banned Pyongyang from trading in.
The United States, Japan, and South Korea (even if it will not say so) fear that North Korea will launch a nuclear attack against one or all of them. China, by contrast, apparently does not fear that North Korea will launch a nuclear attack against it. There are, however, other things that China does worry about.
One of these, according to press accounts, is a messy collapse of the communist regime in North Korea. This could lead to millions of starving North Koreans seeking refuge in China. Beijing also reportedly fears that a North Korean collapse will lead to the reunification of the Korean peninsula under the auspices of the South, and thus a loss of influence for China. A nuclear armed North Korea is apparently preferable to Beijing than to either of these possibilities.
But China fears other things too, including the acquisition of nuclear weapons by Japan. A nuclear-armed Japan would be less amenable to pressure from China. The Japanese acquisition of nuclear weapons might also lead to South Korea, and even Taiwan, acquiring them too.
America and the West do not want Japan, South Korea and Taiwan to have nuclear weapons, but their acquiring them would not be a threat to them in the way that North Korea's obtaining them would be. Japan, South Korea and Taiwan are all established democracies that can be expected to behave rationally and restrainedly, as other democracies with nuclear weapons (United States, United Kingdom, France, Israel, and India) have done.
Even if Beijing understands this, it still has a strong incentive to prevent Japan, South Korea, and Taiwan from acquiring nuclear weapons; to the extent that acquiring nuclear weapons would increase Japan's and South Korea's relative power in the region, this would come mainly at China's expense. A nuclear-armed Taiwan, of course, would seriously threaten Beijing's efforts to deter it from declaring independence.
If Beijing feared that a nuclear-armed North Korea might well result in Japan, (and maybe South Korea and Taiwan) acquiring nuclear weapons, it would have a strong incentive to act far more strenuously than it has so far to induce North Korea to foreswear nuclear weapons. However, by prompting Tokyo to claim that it is not even considering acquiring nuclear weapons, as Secretary Rice has done, Washington reduces Beijing's incentive for pressuring Pyongyang on this issue.
Neither Washington, Seoul, nor even Tokyo want Japan to acquire nuclear weapons. But if Secretary Rice or some other high level U.S. official expressed understanding about how Japan might consider acquiring nuclear weapons in response to North Korea doing so, Beijing's incentive to induce Pyongyang to renounce them would surely increase.
earlier related report
Chinese envoy Tang Jiaxuan, who on Thursday became the first foreign official to meet the reclusive Kim since North Korea conducted its atomic test on October 9, said his trip to Pyongyang had not been a waste of time.
"Fortunately my visit this time has not been in vain," Tang told visiting US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice here.
South Korea's Yonhap news agency reported Friday that Kim had told Tang North Korea would not conduct a second nuclear weapons test.
Japan also had information that Kim told Tang Pyongyang was not going to carry out a second test, Foreign Minister Taro Aso said.
"Though it is not confirmed, we have obtained information that he (Kim) told Mr Tang the country won't conduct a second nuclear test," Aso said in a speech outside Tokyo, according to Kyodo news.
However neither Tang, China's leaders or Rice -- in a wide range of public comments made during a hectic day of diplomacy in Beijing -- gave any indication that Kim had made such a commitment.
Chinese Foreign Minister Li Zhaoxing said only that the two sides had benefited from better "mutual understanding" and that the prospect of resuming the stalled six-party talks on Pyongyang's nuclear program had been discussed.
Chinese President Hu Jintao told Rice in comments broadcast on state-run television that restarting six-party talks was essential, and that also sides needed to be careful to ensure the nuclear crisis did not slip out of control.
"We are willing to make common efforts with all sides to deal with the issue calmly and to act cautiously to prevent the situation from deteriorating or losing control," Hu said.
"We must actively create conditions and strive to restart the six-party talks as soon as possible."
Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao described the North Korean nuclear situation as at a "crossroads".
"The direction it takes will have a direct bearing on peace and stability in Northeast Asia and the world," he told Rice in front of reporters as they begun their meeting.
Tang repeated that message, and urged the United States to take a more flexible attitude towards solving the crisis, saying working towards returning to six-party talks was the key.
"This is in the interests of all sides and I hope the United States will take a more active and flexible attitude," Tang was quoted by official Xinhua news agency as saying.
Rice had pressured China throughout the day to ensure it fully implemented the UN Security Council's resolution adopted on Saturday against North Korean in response to its nuclear test.
China -- by far North Korea's closest ally and biggest trading partner and aid donor -- is seen as critical to ensuring the sanctions are enforced but has it had balked at inspecting cargo traveling into and out of its neighbor.
However Rice told reporters after her meetings with the Chinese leadership that she had been assured China would fully implement the sanctions against North Korea.
Rice said China was determined to ensure no illicit materials crossed China's long land border with North Korea -- a major conduit for North Korean trade.
"The Chinese made the point to us that they are scrupulous about that land border," Rice said.
Rice arrived in Beijing from Seoul on Friday morning on the third leg of her four-nation tour to discuss the nuclear crisis. She began the trip in Tokyo and will travel to Moscow on Saturday.
Source: United Press International
Source: Agence France-Presse
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China Puts Squeeze On North Korea In Nuclear Crisis
Seoul (AFP) Oct 20, 2006
China on Thursday increased pressure on North Korea not to conduct a second atom bomb test while US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice appeared to win a commitment from Seoul to review its policy of economic engagement with Pyongyang. The Chinese special envoy, former foreign minister Tang Jiaxuan, handed a personal message from President Hu Jintao to reclusive North Korean leader Kim Jong-Il, a foreign ministry spokesman in Beijing said.
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