Knives, Lassoes, and Accordions: A Chinese Traditionalist View of the Korean Peninsula
Not only have the recent actions of North Korea brought it back to the Apollo international stage with its most recent performance, but those actions have also provided a brief glimpse into the polarized Chinese debate regarding North Korea. From traditionalists to strategists, Shen Dingli (a well-known favorite of the West), Zhu Feng, Lü Chao, Zhang Liangui, and Major General Luo Yuan are among the most notable voices who aid in defining the debate regarding the policy preferences of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) toward North Korea.
Ding Gang (丁刚), a senior reporter for the nationalistic mouthpiece of the CCP–the Renmin Ribao (人民日报) — may not reach the intellectual heights of the men listed above, but he is a prevalent voice nonetheless. Ding is a traditionalist in terms of how his views are couched: He voices major distrust of the United States and sees pressure from the US as the primary obstruction to North Korean stability. He tends to amalgamate excuses for Chinese inaction with mild chiding of North Korean bellicosity and U.S incompetence. Below is a reading of his recent Huanqiu Shibao editorial published this past week.
Ding Gang, “North Korean Nuclear Issue Cannot be Lassoed by the United States”, [朝核问题不能被美国套牢], Huanqiu Shibao, April 25, 2013
Diving headfirst, Ding Gang asserts that the current situation on the Peninsula is due to the United States. He opines that “for some time now, one way of understanding the situation is to see that the Peninsula’s current state of affairs as having been single-handedly caused by the U.S. [长期以来，有一种说法认为，半岛局势走到今天是美国一手造成].” If the situation is to cool down and North Korea is not to lash out with a “death-knell,” notes Ding, it is imperative that “the U.S. that must take the first step.” Pyongyang, Ding says, has the ability to soften its stance, but the primary power to ameliorate relations [缓和的主动权] lies unambiguously in Washington’s hands. Ding has yet to hear the few sentences of encouragement of North Korea that he imagines American officials are easily capable of.
Many traditionalists prioritize Pyongyang as a strategic asset, all the while viewing Washington’s presence in the Northeast Asian region as running counter to the policy preferences of Beijing. As such, Ding’s comments regarding Washington’s strategic calculus are unsurprising. He follows with the notion:
In sum, North Korea’s rivalry consolidates the need of U.S. allies for the American military and consolidates the dominant position of the United States in Asia. Beyond that, the more North Korea goes head-to-head with the United States, the more the United States is justified in being in East Asia and strengthening its military presence in the Asia-Pacific region. [North Korea’s actions] even encourage some countries which are not adjacent to the Korean peninsula to borrow the power of the United States to maintain the balance that they themselves value [outside of the Korean peninsula].
After noting the American “rebalancing in Asia” has three main aims (“raising the flag, establishing rule sets, and establishing frameworks”), Ding moves stylistically raises toward an inevitable conclusion:
Washington’s intention is to throw itself into the region to regulate the actions of China, doing so under the guise of greater burden-sharing with its allies. The U.S. is trying to manufacture tensions, but an assault leading to actual battle would reveal a field full of very real daggers and guns.
Ding’s traditionalism will not lead him into much more than a mild reproach of North Korea’s capricious behavior and China’s inaction. Blaming of the United States for inciting this conflict makes Ding a paragon of Chinese foreign policy conservatism.
by Mycal Ford