[Marxism] Chinese place high priority on Iran, N. Korea ties

Fred Feldman ffeldman at bellatlantic.net
Mon Aug 15 06:52:22 MDT 2005

And I would add that, with national feeling growing in S. Korea over the
nuclear issue, the Chinese aren't losing any ground with South Korea by
sticking with their allies.

TRANSLATION: Iran & North Korea are strategic pawns that China will not
sacrifice lightly (Le Monde) 

[Frédéric Bobin has been the Beijing correspondent for *Le Monde*
(Paris) for seven years.  --  On Saturday, he published this
geopolitical analysis of the role that Iran and North Korea play in the
long-range strategy of China. --Mark Jensen] 


[Translated from *Le Monde* (Paris)] 



Le Monde August 13, 2005 


[NOTE: The 'ombres chinoises' of the title is a French term for
'shadowgraph.'  --M.K.J.] 

The two nuclear crisis foci making the summer news -- Iran and North
Korea -- have more in common than being the "Axis of Evil" denounced by
George Bush. They also reveal, each in its own way, the pivotal role of
China.  First off, because China's proliferating past contributed to
these two problems upstream directly or indirectly.  But most
importantly because any scenario resolving them will require Beijing's

When one recalls China's passivity in recent international conflicts --
in particular, the two Iraq wars --, one gets a sense of the increasing
influence of the Middle Kingdom on the planet's affairs.  We must admit
the obvious: Beijing's shadow falls over the two crises of the day. 

In the case of Iran, China is a stopper.  Thanks to its veto power, it
holds the key to an indictment of Tehran at the United Nations Security
Council.  In the case of North Korea, China is an intermediary.  For
historical reasons, Beijing is the only capital possessing the slightest
influence on Pyongyang. 

Master of the house in the six-party discussions (China, the Koreas, the
United States, Japan, and Russia) seeking to neutralize the North Korean
nuclear program -- four sets of talks have taken place since 2003 --,
the Chinese have made considerable efforts to earn the image of a
responsible great power. 

The only problem is that these talks have the time being failed, and one
can legitimately wonder about China's will to use all its influence on
its North Korean neighbor.  For Beijing is defending in this area -- as
also in Iran -- strictly national interests that it would be hasty to
confuse with those of Westerners.  This must be kept in mind. 

In the Iranian affair, Chinese diplomacy will undertake nothing that
alienates a friendship with Tehran on the rise in recent years because
of an obsession: oil.  As a bitter fruit of its economic miracle, China
today has been sucked into an energy dependency that is heavy with
geopolitical stakes.  Since 1993 it has been a net importer of oil.  It
buys one third of its needs abroad, a rate that will rise to 50% in 2020
and probably 80% in 2030, according to projections of the International
Energy Agency (IEA).  This perspective puts Beijing in state of
strategic insecurity, especially since almost two thirds of its imports
come from the Middle East (another proportion that is sure to increase).
In addition to the instability of the region, this oil is carried to
China by maritime routes.  There are 7,500 miles separating Shanghai
from the Strait of Hormuz -- controlled by the U.S. Navy. 

This gives an idea of the urgency the Chinese feel about loosening the
American vise through cultivation of close ties with oil states that
have differences with Washington, the ideal being that they might also
open access to Central Asian supplies, thought to be more secure.  Iran
offered this double advantage.  In 2004 the two countries signed an
agreement according to the terms of which China bought $70 billion worth
of natural gas and oil whose delivery would stretch over a period of
thirty years.  In this scenario, the Chinese will participate in
exploiting the Yadavaran field, situated not far from Iraq's border.
Beijing also hopes to be involved in an oil pipeline crossing Iran to
the Caspian Sea, where a connection can be made to another pipeline
linking Kazakhstan and western China. 

The American thrust in Central Asia following the war in Afghanistan has
upset these plans, of course.  In Beijing it revived strategic concerns
about these alternative continental routes, reinforcing the anxiety felt
by the Chinese about being caught in a pincer movement on the east as
well on the west.  As a result, Beijing and Tehran, equally allergic to
Washington's push into the region, have strengthened this axis still

Tehran's advertised objective is to raise China to the rank of leading
buyer of its oil and gas, replacing Japan.  In these conditions, it is
scarcely surprising that the Chinese foreign minister, Li Zhaoxing, took
a position in 
2004 against submitting the Iranian nuclear case to the Security
Council. Will Beijing persist in its will to protect Tehran should the
challenge that President Ahmadinejad now represents develop into an
acute international crisis? 

In the case of the Korean peninsula, oil is not an issue but the
suzerainty that Beijing claims naturally to exercise over its imperial
marches is.  The North Korean nuclear case has marked a turning point.
What is new is that China was a leader in putting in place a regional
security mechanism in the form of the famous six-party talks that it
regularly hosts.  Up until then, a bilateral approach had been its
preference.  Two motives have inspired this conversion to a multilateral

The first is a good-will gesture addressed to the Americans -- eager to
see Beijing exercise a moderating role on Pyongyang -- in hopes of
future return on the Taiwanese matter.  Even if they don't say it too
loudly, the Chinese have always linked their mediation to stopping
Washington's arms sales to Taipei.  This calculation has partly paid
off:  military deliveries to Formosa have not come to an end, but George
Bush has made efforts to cool down the independentist temptations of
Chen Shui-bian, president of the island. 


The second reason for Beijing's engagement has to do with a real
concern: North Korea's nuclearization would unleash an arms race in the
region -- Japan and even Taiwan might be tempted to cross the nuclear
threshold -- that would be very harmful to China's interests, whose
growth requires a peaceful strategic environment. 

In reality, Beijing wants nothing so much as maintenance of the status
quo on the Korean peninsula.  In addition to the danger of unbridled
nuclearization, the worst-case scenario for it would be a collapse of
the Pyongyang regime as a prelude to a reunification dominated by South
Korea, Washington's ally.  The very idea that American troops might be
stationed on its borders causes nightmares in China. 

This obsession explains why Beijing will exert only friendly pressure on
North Korea, a precious buffer zone helping to keep at bay the danger of
American encroachment on its marches.  While Chinese aid -- food and oil
-- keep the North Korean regime alive, Beijing has always refused to
impose the least sanction on its neighbor, whose caprices nevertheless
exasperate it.  The risk of destabilization for the benefit of a future
expansion of the Pax Americana in the Far East would be too great. 

Beijing's choice is rather to consolidate the North Korean regime by
converting it to the virtues of a capitalist economic model, which has
succeeded so well for the Chinese Communist Party.  To achieve this it
must dissipate Pyongyang's oppressive paranoia of Pyongyand, where a
sectarian type of autarchy has always carried the day.  But sanctions
will always be out of the question. 

Given all these factors, we can better appreciate why Kim Jong-il's
regime has in many ways a feeling of impunity in its nuclear poker game.
If China doesn't wave the red card, who will?  Like Iran, North Korea is
a strategic pawn in a new "great game" of rival influences that will in
coming years oppose China and the United States.  Beijing will not
sacrifice them lightly. 

Translated by Mark K. Jensen Associate Professor of French Department of
Languages and Literatures Pacific Lutheran University Tacoma, WA
98447-0003 Phone: 253-535-7219 Home page: http://www.plu.edu/~jensenmk/
E-mail: jensenmk at plu.edu

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