x Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 17 January 2018

US accused of pressure on China for dialogue

The US is driving a wedge between China and North Korea by proposing that Beijing and Washington form a contingency plan in preparation for the "post-Kim Jong Il North Korea", China's government-controlled media claims.

BEIJING // The United States is driving a wedge between China and North Korea by proposing that Beijing and Washington form a contingency plan in preparation for the "post-Kim Jong Il North Korea", China's government-controlled media said yesterday. The report by the influential Global Times, published under the People's Daily, came as a response to Sunday's exclusive report by the Associated Press that stated China refused to talk with the US on the "potential chaos engulfing its dysfunctional neighbour".

In a full front-page, Chinese military expert Dai Xu told The Global Times the real reason for the US to pull China into drawing up a contingency plan is a "plot" to drive a wedge between China and North Korea. He also emphasised that "the stability of North Korea conforms China's national interest". The piece first accused the US of making the contingency plan public in order to pressure China "to begin a dialogue with the US", before accusing it and South Korea of trying to get China to go along with their plans for North Korea.

The AP report said the plan was raised in "several meetings" between senior American and Chinese officials, most recently during a visit to Beijing last month by James Steinberg, the US deputy secretary of state. The Global Times confirmed it, saying there were "at least" three occasions in which the US asked China to jointly develop a "contingency plan for North Korea's collapse", citing a Chinese expert on North Korea, who declined to be named. The unnamed scholar said the US first raised the idea in 2004, prompted by South Korea. The second time was in August 2008, when North Korea's leader, Kim Jong Il, had not appeared in public for more than two months, sparking speculation about his health. The third time it was raised by the US was last month, the paper said, by Mr Steinberg.

Chinese analysts say the motive behind the US raising the issue with China is not necessarily because out of concern for North Korean refugees or about Pyongyang's nuclear weapons. "The real US intention is to probe China's attitude on the future of the North Korean leadership," The Global Times said, adding that South Korea is behind the US' actions. Yu Wanli, an associate professor at the Centre for International and Strategic Studies at Peking University in Beijing, strongly supported the Chinese government's stance of not entering into a dialogue with the US.

"The reason that China cannot publicly discuss the so-called 'post-Kim Jong Il era' is because ? China and the US are not on the same page on this matter," he said in the Global Times article. Koh Yu-hwan, a professor of North Korean studies at Dongguk University in Seoul, sees the latest development as evidence that China is under pressure to configure its newly found global superpower status. "We are entering the so-called 'G2' era, in which China is expected to play a more positive and constructive role. China is under great pressure of either siding with North Korea or siding with the international community," Prof Koh said.

China has an interest in maintaining the status quo in North Korea, seeing Mr Kim's regime as a potential military ally as well as a "buffer zone" between it and US-allied South Korea. It also longs for greater access to the North's wealth of natural resources. Prof Koh said: "China is confident it can prop up North Korea so that it won't collapse when Kim Jong Il dies." Mr Yu agreed, saying the US as well as South Korea had "exaggerated" the vulnerability of the North Korean government in this transitional period. "China will never let the collapse of North Korea happen," he said.

Han Suk-hee, an expert on the China-North Korea relationship at the Yonsei University in Seoul, said "China will make the need for such a contingency plan obsolete by continuing to provide aid to the impoverished country and keep it from imploding." Some Chinese analysts believe the contingency discussion could prompt Beijing to take a more pro-active stance on North Korea. Zhang Lianggui, a professor of international strategy at the Central Community Party School in Beijing, told the Global Times: "If China doesn't have a plan for such an issue, which concerns a vital interest, then it is neglecting its duty.

"What if the US is thinking about establishing a pro-America interim government in the post-Kim Jong-il North Korea? If China doesn't communicate with the US on this matter and pursue its interest, then it will lose initiative on the matter," Mr Zhang warned. slee@thenational.ae