Sublime and Beautiful

China Must Get Tough with DPRK

Posted in Uncategorized by chaoren on April 7, 2009

Last Sunday, the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK) launched one of its Taepodong-2 missiles. The missile passed over Japan and, according to the North American Aerospace Defense Command (NORAD), pitched its payload into the Pacific Ocean. The launch was a blatant violation of U.N. Resolution 1718 which was unanimously approved by the U.N. Security Council following the DPRK’s testing of a nuclear weapon in October 2006. The resolution was meant to halt the DPRK’s nuclear weapons and ballistic missile programs as well as encourage the rouge state to return to the Six-Party Talks.

China, which approved the resolution, responded to Sunday’s launch in an impotent manner that has come to characterize it’s behavior in the U.N. While many called for punitive measures against the DPRK, China urged calm and, along with Russia, made it clear that it would use its veto power in the Security Council to strike down any sort of stringent legislative response to the latest incidence of North Korean brinkmanship.

Surely, all involved in this predicament would like to avoid escalating the conflict. But how does ignoring the DPRK’s provocative behavior, yet again, not strengthen the country’s position as a belligerent, destabilizing force in East Asia? China needs to get off the fence. Calls for calm in difficult times are always reassuring. But, considering that North Korea’s launch didn’t catch anyone by surprise, the already calm crowd at the U.N. needs China to use its influence to show the DPRK it is playing a game of sticks-and-carrots, not chowing down at an all-you-can-eat salad buffet.

It is time for China to decide whether it really wants to be a superpower or just an economic power. Economic powers exert great influence on global economic affairs; superpowers are leaders the world can look to for guidance. So far, China has not shown that it is worthy of the leadership responsibilities inherent in the role of superpower. Its opposition to intervening in other countries’ “internal affairs,” even when it means stopping atrocious human rights abuses in countries like Sudan, Zimbabwe, and Myanmar, is the antithesis of how a superpower ought to act. Moreover, such behavior begs the question: should China be a permanent member of the Security Council, let alone a superpower?

To ask such a question might seem rash to some. But when a permanent council member actively undermines the legitimacy and relevancy of the U.N., this question must be raised. I would have raised the same question of the U.S. and Britain following the invasion of Iraq. In fact, the Iraq War is an example of what the world faces if the U.N. Security Council does not quickly become a force to be reckoned with. If the U.N. does not enforce its resolutions, if states like the DPRK are permitted to violate resolution after resolution without consequence, the U.N. will become totally irrelevant.

China is right to worry about North Korea’s commitment to the Six-Party Talks in the event of strict measures being taken against the DPRK. There is a strong possibility that North Korea will forgo future negotiations if the world does not bend to its strong-arm tactics. But, as U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Susan Rice stated yesterday in an interview with Judy Woodruff on The Newshour with Jim Lehrer:

The U.S. view is frankly that to strengthen the Six-Party Talks and to ensure their continued viability North Korea needs to understand from this experience that the international community will uphold its end of the bargain and it needs to uphold its end.

North Korea has a long history of manipulating the international community by negotiating in bad faith and stooping to brinkmanship. The North Korean problem will not go away unless powerful countries like China and the other Security Council members put an end to North Korea’s extortionist tactics and force it to honor its commitments.

The U.N. still has the potential to bring about a more peaceful world. The institution can still fight to protect human rights, promote social welfare, and prevent violent conflicts. However, it desperately needs good leaders who are willing to stand together and confront the messiest problems facing the world. China can play a major part in these missions. It only needs to accept the responsibilities of a leader and, in addition to empowering the U.N., China could become a true superpower.


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