Wednesday, May 11, 2005

Where Does China Stand on N. Korea?

China seems to be taking a contradictory public stance towards North Korea and the six-party talks aimed at getting the DPRK to back away from their nuclear program. CBC News reported on Saturday that Chinese officials suggested cutting off food deliveries might have the biggest impact on the DPRK without actually recommending that as a course of action. Last night, the New York Times reported a statement that seems to suggest that, despite the impact withholding food aid might have, the Chinese government would oppose any attempt to do so.

Liu Jianchao, China's Foreign Ministry spokesman, said Tuesday that China rejected suggestions that it should reduce oil or food shipments to North Korea, calling them part of its normal trade with its neighbor that should be separate from the nuclear problem. "The normal trade flow should not be linked up with the nuclear issue," he said. "We oppose trying to address the problem through strong-arm tactics."

The Times' story goes on to explain that, according to Chinese records, the amount of trade and aid between China and North Korea has never been greater.

The World Food Program, citing statistics from the Chinese government, said China's food aid to North Korea soared in the beginning of this year. By the organization's estimate, China sent 146,000 tons of food to North Korea in the first three months of this year, compared with 165,000 tons for all of 2004.

North Korea's economy depends heavily on Chinese trade and aid. The United States and its allies stopped providing oil to North Korea in 2002. But Chinese oil shipments have continued, and overall trade between China and North Korea increased 20 percent in the first quarter of 2005 compared with the same period a year ago.

It is also possible that China's public stance may be quite different than it's actual dealings with North Korea, according to the Times. This may explain a May 9 report in South Korea's Chosun Ilbo (english edition) describing a different situation in Pyongyang, the capitol of North Korea. In contrast to the massive increase of food aid, Kim Jong Il seems to be cutting rations to the residents of the city.

"Since mid-April, special food rations for Pyongyang residents have been suspended, and they are getting increasingly anxious," a North Korean official involved in trade with China said. He said food rations for people on the outskirts of Pyongyang had been cut off since the start of the year. This is the first time since the height of the reclusive country's food crisis in 1998 that residents in the capital have had their rations cut.

Dr. Seo Jae-jin of the Korea Institute for National Unification said one reason for the shortage was that international food aid to North Korea has been on hold since the beginning of the year.

The most significant recent reduction in food aid came in December 2004 when Japan froze their food aid to North Korea because of an ongoing issue unrelated to the nuclear problem. So, I don't understand the reason of the food shortages if China is, apparently, making up the difference.

This gets us back to China's involvement in the six-party talks. They say they are unwilling to impose economic or political sanctions, and they are reportedly prepared to make up the difference in fuel and food shipments to North Korea, but is China ready to support North Korea as a fully dependent client state?

This also demonstrates that six-party talks involving China is the correct course of action. If China is unwilling to stop North Korea's nuclear program, then there is little a bilateral agreement between the U.S. and North Korea could accomplish.

UPDATE 12:25 PM: JustOneMinute also covers this latest Chinese duplicity along with a piece by Thomas Freidman in the New York Times.


Blogger AlanK said...

It sounds like that China is trying to get North Korea to become as dependant on it as belarus is on Russia. At the moment it is a win win situation for China

12:37 PM  
Blogger Scott said...

I can't see how Korea starting a war with the West would benefit China. Currently China depends on Japan and the US to purchase its exports. North Korea is already dependant on China for aid as it has ben since WWII.

5:37 PM  
Blogger Mike said...

I think it is time we start recognizing that North Korea is just a province of China and that China is not our ally. I'm not saying we should go to war with China, but we should give up this fantasy that China is our "partner". We need to start helping our allies (Japan and Taiwan) arm themselves.

6:42 PM  
Blogger Scott said...

What makes Japan our ally more than China is our partner? They're our ally because we kicked their ass 60 years ago? Or are they our ally because we do a lot of business with them. If that's the case, then China's our ally by the same definition. Japan's certainly not a military ally, given that they barely have one.
What on earth good would it do to start a new cold or hot war with China? Like it or not, they outnumber us, and unless you plan to keep them in the bronze age forever, they will eventually have more influence in the world than the US will.

10:39 AM  

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