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China Balances Concern Over North Korea Missile Tests With Ties to Pyongyang

  • Luis Ramirez

China has expressed grave concern over North Korea's missile launches this week and urged restraint by all sides. However, the Chinese leadership is being careful to not alienate Pyongyang while at the same time expressing its dissatisfaction over the missile tests.

China's official news agency, Xinhua, quoted the country's U.N. ambassador as saying the North Korea missile tests had an unfavorable impact on regional security and stability. The remarks were the strongest yet by China, which analysts say is trying to be careful not to antagonize Pyongyang, with which Beijing maintains ideological and, to a lesser degree, economic ties.

Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Jiang Yu on Thursday said the missile launches had "nothing to do with China." However, Beijing is stepping up its push to mediate the crisis and to avoid an effort by Japan and the United States to have the United Nations Security Council approve a resolution condemning Pyongyang.

Jiang said China hopes tensions can be reduced through diplomatic efforts. She said Beijing would push for resumption of the negotiations on ending North Korea's nuclear weapons programs. Beijing has held several rounds of talks with North and South Korea, Japan Russia, and the United States.

"China will continue efforts to promote the six-party talks and strive for the peace and stability of the Korean peninsula," said Jiang.

Jiang confirmed that Beijing is sending its top negotiator to the six-party talks, Vice Foreign Minister Wu Dawei, to Pyongyang next week. Wu will accompany Vice Premier Hui Liangyu, who was scheduled to be in North Korea Monday to mark the 45th anniversary of a Sino-North Korean friendship treaty.

Wu is to meet with the chief U.S. envoy to the talks, Christopher Hill in Beijing on Friday ahead of Wu's visit to North Korea.

Many political analysts expect the Chinese next week to encourage North Korea to return to the negotiations, which Pyongyang has boycotted since last year.

China is the main supplier of food and fuel to the isolated and impoverished communist nation and as such wields more influence over Pyongyang than any other nation. Professor Stephen Noerper, an expert on Northeast Asia security issues at New York University in the United States, says Beijing could easily influence North Korea by cutting off supplies.

"The question is, will the Chinese see a benefit in doing that and trying to demonstrate to the North Koreans that this type of activity is unacceptable? Or will the Chinese try to play down the situation and maintain their effective maintenance of the economic sustenance of the North Korean regime because it provides a level of comfort in the status quo and doesn't ratchet up tensions further? This is the strategic dilemma for those in Beijing at the moment," said Noerper.

For China, a collapse of the North Korean regime could result in a flood of refugees. Perhaps even more, political analysts say, Beijing wants to avoid seeing a reunified Korea with a pro-U.S. government on its border.

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