firmly in place has been confirmed through an abundance of historical evidence.
China`s policy for North Korea and South Korea`s Challenges
As China has emerged as a G2 power, many South Korean experts seem to have an incorrect perception about its power and role. Although China`s economic power has risen to challenge the U.S., the country and its leaders face a number of overwhelming challenges. Political unrest has recurrently arisen as minority races in regions such as Tibet, Xinjiang, and Uighur have been fighting for their independence. The inlands in the northern and western provinces remain far underdeveloped. More than 200 million poor farmers have moved to cities seeking work. Human rights problems are still serious. China is grappling with challenges similar to those of developing countries, which harms its reputation as a G2.
The status-quo strategy for Northeast Asia
In order to channel its resources into economic development, China has taken the status-quo strategy for Northeast Asia under the name of "the stability in the external environment." China has provided official and indirect economic aid to North Korea to support the successful power transfer from Kim Jung-il to his heir Jung-un in fears of the regime`s sudden collapse. The strategic support has earned it greater influence over North Korea, which is often used as a strategic leverage in its dealings with the U.S.
Although China has increased its influence over the Korean Peninsula, its policies and strategies for the two Koreas frequently clash with South Korea`s push for unification. There are several factors influencing China`s policy stance.
First, since China has been fully occupied with its internal problems such as riots in Tibet, Xinjiang, and Uighur, it wants to maintain the status quo on the Korean Peninsula. It does not want such a drastic change as the collapse of North Korea or unification of the two Koreas. Instead, it supports a successful power transfer to Kim Jung-un so that the current stand-off between the two Koreas can continue.
China uses North Korea as a buffer zone
Second, China has been using North Korea as a buffer zone for its strategic interest. China seeks to maneuver the current tension on the Korean Peninsula until its power grows enough to challenge to the U.S. over the Taiwan issue. This is why Beijing has bluntly defended Pyongyang over its attacks on a South Korean warship and the Yeonpyong Island near the border.
Third, China has been strategically using North Korea in showing off its diplomatic power in the Northeast Asian region as a chair of the six-party talks. Against this backdrop, although the North Korea`s uranium enrichment program is clearly a violation of the U.N. resolution, China opposes to the idea of sending the issue to the U.N. Security Council and instead insists on dealing with it under the six-party framework.
Fourth, China prefers non-proliferation over denuclearization for North Korea. Therefore, China is likely to lead the six-party talks to focus on how to manage the nuclear weapons in North Korea, rather than scrapping them.
Relying on China is naive and dangerous idea
As explained above, China has tried to maintain the status quo on the Korea Peninsula for its short-term national interests, rather than approaching the issue to promote peace and prosperity in the region and resolve the North Korean problem. Therefore, relying on China is both naïve and dangerous. South Korea must use various channels to show its deterrence ability and strong will to unify with North Korea while coping with China`s strategic goal to exclude the U.S. from the region.
By Bae Jung-ho, head of the Center for International Relations Studies at Korea Institute for National Unification