January 10, 2003

Don't Count on China

Bush keeps hoping either China or Russia will step in and persuade North Korea to calm down, put away the nukes and let the US go about its business in the Middle East. But in recent meetings the two nations made it clear that they believed it was Bush's big mouth that started the problem in the first place, and therefore it is the responsibility of the US to find a solution.

Chinese Foreign Minister Tang Jiaxun told his French counterpart that China advocated a non-nuclear peninsula, direct dialogue between the US and North Korea and a guarantee from the international community that North Korea's security concerns would be met.

Russia, in a meeting with Japanese officials, toed very much the same line. Instead of seeing North Korea as a threat to the East, China and Russia suggest that the US unilateral strutting has created an atmosphere of tension where one did not exist before. Ask the South Koreans and you will receive a similar answer.

America's enemies are multiplying and Bush just can't seem to comprehend why so many people hate a land of freedom and justice. The Administration (sans Powell, of course) just can't seem to grasp the bully concept: "axis of evil"-style challenges and bombs over Kabul and Baghdad and airbases throughout the known world will isolate you from the rest of the world.

Of course, the last thing China wants to see is a war in Korea. Refugees at the gate, US soldiers on all borders, nuclear explosions ... nobody wants this. But the US has made it clear that tackling a nuclear-armed, fight-to-the-death North Korea is not on the list of things to do this year. So Russia and China can afford to sit back a bit and wait for the dialogue to begin, which it must, if nuclear war is to be avoided. For if one thing is clear, the North Korean army is willing to go down in a blaze of glory.

Direct dialogue between the bully and the rogue is a dream come true for China, for it would dodge another real obligation to the international community and it would allow China to continue doing what it feels it needs to do: Spend billions on space programs, games, expositions, golf courses, Yao Ming coverage, etc. to keep the public mind off of the lack of jobs, money and opportunities and the overflow of corruption, crime, pollution and ruthless greed.

China's house is so full of cobwebs and dirt that the leaders avoid international entanglements at all costs. A whole legion of China watchers are holding their breath waiting for the one event that will propel the Chinese onto the international stage as a real player and not just a face-seeking abstainer. If they don't exhale, they will die. If China does anything unilaterally to defuse the situation, it will remain a secret from the whole world for as long as possible. Behind the scenes messages and warnings are the best the US can hope for – and even these actions are not likely.

The US has to understand that the world does not believe North Korea to be in the wrong as much as Bush would like. In fact, there is a large amount of respect given to a country who will stand up to US demands. Now, whether world opinion takes into account the starving population and draconian policies North Korea is so famous for is of no significance: The fact remains that someone is standing up to the world bully, and it doesn't matter who that someone is, people will cheer.

Perhaps this is why Bush agreed to talk this week. To remove the bully image and try and gain a little more of the high ground with our friends and allies in the East who have been pushing for Sunshine and Dialogue since the ideas floated with Kim Dae Jung's tenure in the South.

A while back I wrote that China stays calm while the US keeps "drawing bad cards." This is precisely why Bush cannot count on China for aid in the North Korea situation. North Korea and Pakistan have a longstanding relationship with China: China keeps the two supplied with state of the art technology for weapons, roads etc. and the two little guys keep the rest of the world busy while China continues developing and making money.

US time and energy is spent defusing crises, building up weapons and troops and soothing erstwhile allies and newfound enemies while China keeps rolling along, rebuilding cities, paving new roads, streamlining the government and giving the businessmen a free hand in developing the country.

Bush and his buddies have a pretty short memory. Just a few months ago China was labeled the biggest threat to US interests in the future, both economically and militarily. Now, the US expects a little "help from its friends" with North Korea. Fat chance, Bush. When the Administration pointed at China as a competitor and possible future enemy in a war, they should have thought about what weight such words may carry.

Now, when China's aid is truly needed, Bush gets naught but a few words and a perhaps a shrug and a grin.

–Sascha Matuszak

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Sascha Matuszak is a teacher living and working in China. His articles have appeared in the South China Morning Post, the Minnesota Daily, and elsewhere. His exclusive Antiwar.com column (usually) appears Fridays.

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