President Moon Jae-in’s visit to China last week has provided South Koreans with a reality check on the country regarding where it stands in the North Korea crisis and what kind of a neighbor it is. The outcome of which is more troubling than disappointing.
Most of all, Moon’s summit talks with Chinese President Xi Jinping confirmed that Beijing has no intention to meet the demand of the international community to put pressure on North Korea to stop the rogue regime’s nuclear and missile belligerence.
That alone signals a red light to the international efforts to resolve the crisis, which has become more acute in the wake of the North’s claim that its latest intercontinental missile test completed its state nuclear force which can hit the US mainland.
In his meeting with Moon, Xi only repeated what Chinese leaders have been saying since the first North Korean nuclear crisis in the mid-1990s: It opposes nuclear arms on the Korean Peninsula and the North Korean crisis should be settled through diplomatic negotiations.
The most troubling part is that Xi and Moon agreed that there should be no war on the peninsula. The two, in effect, were telling the US not to think about taking military action on the rogue regime in Pyongyang.
In truth, no one with a sensible mind wants war. It is also true that everyone should try to stop the North’s nuclear and missile menace without going to war, a result that could be catastrophic.
But the possibility of the US striking North Korea with its overwhelming military might has been and should be effective leverage in dealing with the North’s young dictator Kim Jong-un.
In this context, the united message from the leaders of South Korea -- a key ally of the US which has already raised the possibility of taking military action against North Korea -- and China -- the sole remaining ally of the North -- definitely weakens the positon of the US and the international community in dealing with the recalcitrant regime.
A Kim who frets about a possible US strike and a Kim who does not will react differently to international sanctions and pressure aimed to force it to stop provocations and come to the negotiation table.
Xi’s reiteration of denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula is also intended to forfeit South Korea and the US’ other key means of deterrence against the North’s nuclear and missile threat: redeployment of US tactical nuclear weapons in South Korea or the South’s development of nuclear arms.
Like his predecessors, Xi is using the principle of denuclearization of both Koreas in part to check possible reinforcement of US military power in the region. China is more interested in curbing US hegemony than resolving the North Korea crisis which has become a global security threat.
It was against this backdrop that China vehemently opposed the deployment of a US missile shield system in South Korea. Xi and Premier Li Keqiang mentioned the issue in their separate meetings with Moon, leaving the possibility that China may reserve its decision to restore Sino-South Korea relations strained by Beijing’s retaliatory measures.
If China’s stance on the North Korea crisis and the Terminal High Altitude Area Defense System had not been unanticipated, the cases of China’s poor treatment and inadequate protocol for Moon and the vicious assaults on Korean journalists by Chinese security agents showed how the Chinese view its neighbor.
It is not the first time that Chinese security officials manhandled entourage members of visiting heads of state, but it is simply dumbfounding that a group of security agents severely beat members of the official press corps accompanying Moon.
What makes it more outrageous is that no Chinese government official offered apologies and that China’s state-controlled media even defended the violence. If the incident had not been premeditated, the Chinese seemed to be enjoying all the satisfaction of humiliating visitors from their neighboring country.
Countries and individuals become wiser by learning. Moon’s four-day trip to China certainly provided Koreans with a precious chance to learn more about the bigger, but narrow-minded neighbor. Our China strategy should get wiser accordingly.