No More Firewall: Qiao Xinsheng on the DPRK’s Militant Isolation

By | February 17, 2013 | No Comments

Chinese Border Guards Training near the DPRK, March 25, 2012.

Chinese Border Guards Training near the DPRK, March 25, 2012.

When it comes to any given issue, China’s staggering diversity of opinion is rarely fully reflected in the massive but often blinkered production of the PRC state-controlled media. In the past weeks and months, however, China’s voices on what to do about North Korea have seemed to be multiplying, and the existing diversity among informed elites and readers, while not precisely amounting to “one hundred schools of thought,” has become more evident.  Traditionalists hold that North Korea is a firewall or buffer state for China, and has been so since antiquity. Others, like Zhu Feng, survey the world and argue that the North Koreans have been not simply insulting Beijing, but running directly contrary to the PRC’s national interest.  In the following piece, the Huanqiu Shibao airs an editorial by an academic from the industrial city of Wuhan who argues that the era of Beijing’s special relationship with Pyongyang has come to an end.  F. Bleeker, a tireless reader of Chinese media, particularly when it comes to foreign affairs and China’s internal “soft power” debate, quickly realized the implications of this article as a  specific attack on the notion of Chinese support to North Korea and an attack on the orthodoxy writ large. But how, when, and why the Chinese Communist Party acts — or declines to act — upon the new conceptualizations of Sino-North Korean relations now being put forward remains an open question. – Adam Cathcart, Chief Editor

Qiao Xinsheng, “Expert says that North Korea is not China’s Firewall; Will Humiliate itself through Provocations “家称朝不是中国防火 挑衅必自取其辱,” Translated by F. Bleeker and Adam Cathcart.

Of the many ideas and suggestions put forth of late surrounding the issue of bilateral relations between China and North Korea, far too many have been specious.

Some scholars believe that the historical relationship between China and North Korea must be thoroughly liquidated [清算], and that China does not need to keep North Korea as its own strategic ally.  However, there are also some scholars who believe that North Korea serves as a firewall on the Korean Peninsula; there is, in other words, still a need for its existence in preventing the disintegration of the Korean Peninsula [朝鲜半岛处于分裂状态] and preserving its own absolutely important strategic balancing role [for] China in Northeast Asia.

I believe that, since North Korea is an independent country, well then, North Korea has the right to choose its own development path [发展道路].

Under whatever conditions, China is not obligated to regard the DPRK as a strategic firewall, because, in fact, there is no way that North Korea can offer China sufficient strategic protection. Quite the contrary, North Korea brazenly and unscrupulously [肆无忌惮] undertook provocative behaviors which have already seriously damaged China’s international image.

If it is not possible to settle the problem conclusively (literally, solve the problem at one final stroke; 一劳永逸) , well then, China will be placed in a very passive position within the strategic balance in Northeast Asia.

North Korea is not China’s firewall. The friendly relations between China and South Korea have already determined that China does not fear the U.S. military presence in the Korean Peninsula. More importantly, by no means should China be worried that the unification of the Korean peninsula will bring it massive harm. 

Peace and stability in Northeast Asia and on the peninsula would be absolutely beneficial to China’s long-term development. If North Korea persists in its obstinate isolation [一意孤行] and continues to create trouble on the Korean peninsula, well then, China has no choice but to seek thorough solutions [中国不得不寻求彻底的解决方案].

A very long time ago: PRC Premier Wen Jiabao hugs Kim Jong Il in Pyogyang in October 2009 a few months after the second nuclear test, prior to offering Kim a massive aid package.

A very long time ago: PRC Premier Wen Jiabao hugs Kim Jong Il in Pyogyang in October 2009 a few months after the second nuclear test, prior to offering Kim a massive aid package.

Some scholars believe that the state of the game between China and America in northeast Asia is very clear: In their view, China should win North Korea over to its side with the purpose of continuously opposing and complicating America’s strategic alliances in northeast and southeast Asia. But there are also scholars who believe that 1) America’s global presence is an indisputable fact, that 2) America’s deployments in northeast Asia are an important component of its global array, and that 3) America won’t change its military deployments in northeast Asia simply because North Korea is standing on China’s side.

I believe that the continuous worsening of the North Korean issue has provided America with an excuse for strengthening its military presence in northeast Asia. If the North Korean nuclear issue can’t be thoroughly solved and if normalization on the Korean peninsula cannot be achieved, America’s military presence in northeast Asia will continue. China and America maintain a strategic partnership, and although there are huge differences between the two, China isn’t seeking military or economic benefits [interests]. Therefore, no direct confrontation should occur, on the Korean peninsula, between China and America.

As the swords have been drawn and the crossbows are bent between America and North Korea, and as America is trying to use all kinds of tools to topple North Korean regime, there is no need for China to harness itself to the Korean chariot [中国没有必要把自己绑在朝鲜 半岛的战车上].

China is making full use of diplomatic channels to state its position, but at the same time, it should maintain a genuinely neutral position on the Korean issue, or, in other words: China isn’t North Korea’s protective umbrella, and has no desire to play a military role in the resolution of the Korean peninsula’s issues.

China doesn’t participate in warfare limited to the Korean peninsula. This in itself is an important political, military and diplomatic attitude. China hopes that all parties on the Korean peninsula thoroughly understand that reliance on growing provocations, the final results will be self-inflicted.

John Foster Dulles at the 38th Parallel, 1950 | Image links to Bruce Cumings, _Korea's Forgotten Nuclear Threats_

John Foster Dulles at the 38th Parallel, 1950 | Image links to Bruce Cumings, _Korea’s Forgotten Nuclear Threats_

China appears to be unable to solve the Korean denuclearization issue. North Korea’s willful actions actually put it into an impossible position. North Korea seeks equal diplomatic talks with America, while America just doesn’t want to do business with North Korea’s current regime. If America advances a resolution for sanctions against North Korea in the UN Security Council, including a clause about use of force, China’s best choice should be to “abstain.” In other words: in a military contention between North Korea and America, China won’t be able to help North Korea, and of course, it can’t help America. Both of these countries can’t be sufficiently trusted.

In its game with America, North Korea has already lost all its chips, and the US is using North Korea to play into its hands. This [low-level] regional war between North Korea and America [could expand to] create a humanitarian disaster in northeast Asia. As the Korean peninsula’s neighbor, China should work with the international community to do its utmost to solve the problem. Of course, to truly solve the political, economic and unification issues on the Korean peninsula, I’m afraid South Korea will have to do more.

I have pointed out before that since North Korea has chosen its own path of development, it should pay the price for it by itself. South Korea’s president-elect is facing a complicated situation, and she must act decisively in making her choices. If she opposes American airstrikes [on North Korea], this may leave leeway for peaceful talks on the Korean peninsula. But if she supports American airstrikes, the Korean peninsula will sink into a very grave disaster. South Korea’s attitude is very important, but the final power of decision lies with America.

One can put it this way: North Korea has “broken the glass”, and the initiative in how to take the next steps in dealing with it is in American hands. If the UN Security Council passes a resolution about military sanctions against North Korea, the DPRK can only sit and wait for the calamities to come.

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