Man Without Qualities

Thursday, December 12, 2002

New Korean War Comes On Little Cat's Feet?

Jon Corzine seems to have no clue as to where his new found concern over North Korea should lead. But other people also have concerns, including China:

A senior U.S. envoy said Thursday that China shares American concern about North Korea's nuclear program and is expected to urge "different behavior" on its isolated, secretive ally. Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage ... didn't give any details. ... China is the North's last major ally, but ... Chinese leaders have reacted coolly to appeals to pressure its hard-line Stalinist regime.

"China shares the same concern that the United States has ... and that is that we have to find a way to de-nuclearize the peninsula of Korea," Armitage told reporters. "I'm sure the Chinese will be urging some different behavior on the North Koreans."

China's Foreign Ministry said it had no immediate comment on the talks with Armitage, who was to meet later Thursday with Foreign Minister Tang Jiaxuan and Vice Premier Qian Qichen, the government's top foreign policy official.

North Korea last week rejected an appeal by the U.N. nuclear monitoring agency to abandon its nuclear weapons program and allow foreign inspections.

"Different behavior?" Non-military options to induce "different behavior" from North Korea seem limited - even for China. Could the foundation for a new Korean War be under construction, this one with Chinese support? Probably not soon - but North Korea has not shown willingness to respond to diplomatic or economic persuasion, except, of course, with respect to the phony 1994 oil-for-no-nuclear "deal" that it cut with no intention of complying. China supported the [UN] resolution [authorizing inspections of and action against Iraq] but has argued against U.S. threats of military action, insisting that the United Nations respect Iraqi sovereignty and settle the matter promptly.

But, unlike Iraq, North Korea is right next to China, and that may cut both ways: the Chinese have more to lose from a nuclear North Korea, but authorizing a US incursion right over the border presumably raises a lot of delicate issues for the Chinese and others, including possible use of Chinese military forces together with or in lieu of American forces if the need arises.

UPDATE: The Economist says: Iraq first. Then North Korea. But “North Korea-US relations are heading towards the end of a cliff,” said a spokesman for South Korea’s unification ministry. And a fall from most cliffs is short, with all of the lasting consequences at the very end.

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