U.S.-Chinese Convergence on Korea

April 05, 1994

Differences between the United States and China in dealing with North Korea's nuclear threat are based more on psychology than on policy. Both big powers want the Pyongyang regime to shut down its menacing buildup, and have so declared through a Security Council statement implicitly warning of further steps if North Korea continues to thwart international inspections.

While the U.S. would have preferred a stronger resolution that could lead to economic sanctions, China in effect has insisted that more gentle pressures be applied. It apparently is fearful of international pressures that might provoke North Korea into an attack on South Korea. The United States, in contrast, is warning through Secretary of Defense William Perry that the U.S. would risk such provocation rather than permit North Korea to develop a capacity to build 10 or a dozen nuclear weapons a year.

At this stage, Japan and South Korea are definitely leaning toward the softer Chinese approach and are seeking to make Beijing, as chief author of the United Nations statement, play the role of chief persuader. South Korea's President Kim Young Sam even has gone so far as to say China is now "obligated" to bring North Korea into line. A Chinese delegation may be going to Pyongyang for strongman Kim Il Sung's 82nd birthday celebrations April 15.

Australian Foreign Minister Gareth Evans, who conferred with Chinese leaders over the weekend, emerged saying he thought "China's good faith on the North Korean issue can be assumed " and that "its influence is being deployed." Such words can hardly be reassuring to North Korea, which denounced the Security Council statement as "unreasonable" even though this could be construed as indirect criticism of China.

Giving the situation more urgency are reports that North Korea has been using its year-long delay in acceding to International Atomic Energy Agency inspections to expand its capacity to make plutonium, the stuff of nuclear bombs. Secretary Perry indicated the U.S. could go along with perhaps six more months of diplomatic persuasion, Chinese style, but then would have to take harsher measures even at the risk of war.

His words are intended for Beijing as well as Pyongyang. Not only does China deplore the prospect of a nuclear-armed North Korea on its border but it also abhors tensions that might lead to an enlarged U.S. military presence in South Korea.

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