Crisis on the Korean Peninsula: Views from China, Japan and Russia
Tensions on the Korean Peninsula have flared up again since North Korea’s shelling of Yeonpyeong Island on November 23. Here is a round-up of Chinese, Japanese and Russian views on this latest crisis:
The Global Times, the official English newspaper of the Chinese Communist Party, has been running daily editorials on the crisis:
- It emphasizes that a peaceful Korean Peninsula is in the core of Chinese interests, and warns that tensions on the Korean Peninsula have “now reached a dangerous breaking point… What is happening is not a game. No one can guarantee the situation will not turn into a real war.”
- The paper criticizes South Korea’s rejection of China’s proposal to restart the Six Party Talks, and says North Korea’s actions are proof of the “failure of the hard-line policies of the Lee Myung-bak administration.” South Korea should work with China and “reconsider its security strategy,” since “its alliance with the US cannot guarantee its security.” The headline of the Dec. 2 editorial says “the ball is now in South Korea’s court.”
- There were also strong words for the US role in Asia:
- “The US and its allies seem to have a paradoxical attitude toward the role they expect China to play on the Korean Peninsula. On the one hand, they wish China to side with them pressing the North; meanwhile, they want China to exert special influence over Pyongyang”
- “Strategic trust is almost zero among the players involved. The efforts China makes in promoting regional stability are often offset by US strategic intentions in the western Pacific.”
- In the larger regional context, “one can surely see the shadowy hand of the US exerting its influence against China’s rise. The smart power diplomacy of the US is in full play around China”
Commentaries by scholars sounded a similar note:
- Feng Zhaokui, a researcher with the Institute of Japanese Studies at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, writes that since the end of the Cold War, the US has played up the North Korean threat as a means of convincing Japan that its security still depended on an alliance with the US.
- Li Xiguang, professor at Tsinghua University, says “China should make it crystal clear that anyone who uses the Yeonpyeong incident as an excuse for further provocative actions is playing with fire.”
- Piao Jianyi, professor of Korean affairs at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, said in an interview that the cause of current tensions was South Korea’s more hawkish political strategy towards the North. “There are no simple solutions to solve the tensions, and only urgent six-party consultations could ease the situation to a certain extent.”
- Editorials in the major Japanese newspapers have called North Korea’s actions “outrageous, reckless” and an “act of war.” In Prime Minister Naoto Kan’s words, it was an “abhorrent act of barbarity.”
- There is speculation that this was a show of “succession-linked aggression.” The Japan Times says one of Pyongyang’s motives is to “convince the U.S. to engage in direct talks with it and to get Washington to accept the present North Korean regime and guarantee its continuation.”
- The common view in the Japanese press is that China needs to rein in North Korea, and the Chinese proposal to hold Six-Party Talks at this stage was met with skepticism:
- The Asahi Shimbun comments, “We can well appreciate Beijing’s attempt to seize any opportunity to bring the situation under control. However, we are skeptical of this hastily proposed meeting producing any tangible results.”
- The Yomiuri Shimbun had harsher criticism: “China’s indulgence of North Korea has emboldened Pyongyang to the extent seen in recent developments. If China tacitly approves North Korea’s status quo, the degree of instability in the region will only grow.”
- There are also calls for the United Nations Security Council to take action.
- On Japan’s role, both the Yomiuri Shimbun and the Mainichi Daily News called for strengthened trilateral cooperation with the United States and South Korea, while the latter paper also expressed worry about the Kan administration’s ability to handle the crisis.
- The Moscow Times reported on Nov. 24 that Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said there is a “colossal danger” of escalation on the Korean Peninsula. “Those who started this bear a huge responsibility,” Lavrov said. “What is happening requires consultations.”
- The state-owned news agency RIA Novosti reported that Lavrov expressed hope that the U.N. Security Council in the near future will make a statement on the conflict.
- During Prime Minister Vladimir Putin’s interview with Larry King on CNN, Putin characterized the Korean situation as “very acute and disturbing.” On the Six-Party Talks, Putin expressed support for continued dialogue, but disagreed that the onus was on China to influence North Korea.
- Commentary by Andrei Volodin, head of the Centre for Oriental Studies of Russia’s Diplomatic Academy, highlighted the view that Russia and China had to be involved in any resolution of the North Korean situation. On who to blame for the tensions, he said, “News agencies reported that this incident was triggered by South Korea’s conduct. And therefore, I find all attempts to shift the responsibility for the tension on the Korean Peninsula to North Korea misguided.”
- Fyodor Lukyanov, Editor-in-Chief of the Russia in Global Affairs journal, provided this analysis of the region’s geopolitics: “China’s protection of North Korea lies in pragmatism rather than in any sense of ethnic sympathy or ideology. China stands to benefit more from maintaining the status quo than from having a united U.S.-influenced Korea as its neighbor. A Korea united without U.S. influence would also be an unwelcome prospect, because of the many issues it has to raise with its neighbors, in particular China and Japan. Tokyo, which fears the unpredictable northerners, hates the idea of a united Korea.The United States is now busy trying to resolve problems of its own. It is irritated by North Korea’s invulnerability, with its enrichment centrifuges and missile tests. That said, it can use the North Korean factor to strengthen its military presence in Asia Pacific.”