[Marxism] China says no to sanctions now on N. Korea for nuclear program -- evidence of possible n-test shaky

Fred Feldman ffeldman at bellatlantic.net
Wed May 11 00:54:39 MDT 2005


 

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May 11, 2005
China Rules Out Using Sanctions on North Korea
By JOSEPH KAHN and DAVID E. SANGER 
BEIJING, May 10 - China on Tuesday ruled out applying economic or
political sanctions to pressure North Korea to abandon its nuclear
weapons program, appearing to undercut a crucial element of the Bush
administration's evolving North Korea strategy. The announcement comes
just as American intelligence agencies are trying to determine whether
North Korea is preparing for a nuclear test.

Echoing President Bush's public comments, the Chinese said in a briefing
on Tuesday that they still hoped that talks with North Korea would
succeed in disarming the country, even though it has boycotted those
talks for 11 months.

Liu Jianchao, China's Foreign Ministry spokesman, said Tuesday that
China rejected suggestions that it should reduce oil or food shipments
to North Korea, calling them part of its normal trade with its neighbor
that should be separate from the nuclear problem. "The normal trade flow
should not be linked up with the nuclear issue," he said. "We oppose
trying to address the problem through strong-arm tactics."

Beijing's apparent unwillingness to go along with Mr. Bush's backup plan
to squeeze North Korea takes away the crucial pressure point that Mr.
Bush's aides have been counting on. It also suggests that the strategy
of threatening to go to the United Nations Security Council - which
Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice has begun to discuss - could fail.

China's statement came just days after officials said at least one
American intelligence agency had picked up signs that North Korea might
be preparing for its first test of a nuclear weapon at Kilju in the
northeastern part of the country.

That evidence is ambiguous, and some in the intelligence agencies,
including analysts at the State Department's bureau of intelligence and
research, are debating whether the activity they are seeing in satellite
images signals that a test is imminent. Even those who find the evidence
particularly worrisome caution that the activity could be a ruse.

Earlier on Tuesday, North Korea's state-run media said the United States
was "making a fuss" regarding whether North Korea might conduct a test.
While it dismissed the reports as "U.S. strategic opinions," the Korean
Central News Agency neither denied that that was the country's intent
nor threatened - as North Korea has in past - to detonate a weapon to
prove that it could. 

President Bush called China's president, Hu Jintao, to discuss North
Korea late last week, though the White House gave no details of the
conversation. But several current and former American officials noted on
Tuesday that the Chinese had consistently resisted pressure to crack
down on trade with the North Koreans, and seemed to have made the
stability of the North Korean government a top priority. Mr. Bush and
his aides have said that disarmament is their top priority, and the
president has made no secret of the fact that he detests the North Korea
leader, Kim Jong Il, whom he recently called a "tyrant," accusing him of
keeping political dissidents in "concentration camps."

"Our sense is there is a great debate going on in Beijing right now,
which is intense and divisive," one senior administration official said
on Tuesday. "Their game worked fine when the North Koreans were talking"
with the other five nations - China, South Korea, Japan, Russia and the
United States. But now, the official noted, "North Korea is saying it is
a nuclear weapons state, and they say they want to go into mutual arms
reduction talks."

That is a position very different from the one North Korea was taking a
year ago, when the discussion was about agreeing to a de-nuclearized
Korean Peninsula. The Chinese, the administration official said, "know
that just getting them back to the talks isn't good enough now."

Still, the Chinese Foreign Ministry's statements suggest that China's
strategy for dealing with North Korea remains basically unchanged
despite the concerns about a nuclear test, and despite repeated appeals
of the Bush administration urging Beijing to take a tougher line. 

While Mr. Liu called recent developments related to North Korea's
weapons program "worrying," he said both the United States and North
Korea had expressed a commitment to resume negotiations and that China
had "not lost hope" in arranging a new round of talks.

Some experts with long experience dealing with China on the North Korea
issue suggest that Beijing's public stance may be quite different from
what it is saying to the North Koreans. "The Chinese may be feigning
indifference," said Kurt Campbell, who held a senior defense position in
the Clinton administration dealing with Asian issues. "I believe in
private they are putting pressure on the North Koreans not to test
because a test would be deeply antithetical to their interests in the
region."

Inside the Bush administration, policy makers seem divided on the
question of whether North Korea is really headed toward a test.

Among the questions are whether North Korea is bluffing, and whether its
leaders have decided that demonstrating their nuclear capacities would
serve their purposes better than continued ambiguity about them. These
questions are complicated because there is no consensus among analysts
about what the satellite imagery of the Kilju area shows.

One senior official involved in the debate over how to handle North
Korea said Monday that a test "might convince the Chinese that they have
to get tough." But just weeks ago, others in the administration were
expressing concern that a test could be a political shock to the region
and might set off an environmental disaster significant radiation leaked
from an underground test site. 

It is unclear whether the North Koreans could interpret China's public
statements on Tuesday that it separated trade from nuclear issues as a
signal that it would not suffer significant repercussions if it went
ahead with a nuclear test. 

Absent a test, however, it is unclear how the United States could
increase pressure on North Korea without Chinese help. China could veto
any United Nations resolution, and if it was unwilling to enforce
sanctions along its border, any efforts to isolate North Korea would be
likely to fail. The World Food Program, citing statistics from the
Chinese government, said China's food aid to North Korea soared in the
beginning of this year. By the organization's estimate, China sent
146,000 tons of food to North Korea in the first three months of this
year, compared with 165,000 tons for all of 2004. 

Since the United States accused North Korea of violating a pact to end
its nuclear weapons program in 2002, China has resisted using trade or
economic aid to its impoverished neighbor as leverage to force North
Korea to discontinue the effort.

On a visit to China in late April, Assistant Secretary of State
Christopher Hill repeated American arguments that China should squeeze
North Korea, cutting down on trade, especially fuel shipments, as a
signal of displeasure with its refusal to return to the negotiating
table. One senior official said the Chinese made it clear that they were
concerned about prompting more instability in North Korea that could
send millions of refugees over the Chinese border. 

North Korea's economy depends heavily on Chinese trade and aid. The
United States and its allies stopped providing oil to North Korea in
2002. But Chinese oil shipments have continued, and overall trade
between China and North Korea increased 20 percent in the first quarter
of 2005 compared with the same period a year ago.

Beijing has sent several diplomatic missions to North Korea to urge a
return to nuclear talks. President Hu called the talks the "only correct
path" for North Korea. North Korea has issued contradictory statements
about its willingness to resume talks. It has said it will not do so
unless the United States drops its "hostile policy," but it also
reassured the Chinese that it is committed to continuing talks,
officials have said.

China has also expressed concern about the possibility that North Korea
may conduct a nuclear test, but has not specified whether a test would
prompt it to impose penalties. "We object to any action that is contrary
to the goal of the six-party talks," Mr. Liu said Tuesday. "A
nuclearized Korean Peninsula is not beneficial to any nation." 

Joseph Kahn reported from Beijing for this article, and David E. Sanger
from Washington.



 





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