A prominent Chinese arms control expert says China's strategic interests could force Beijing into a military confrontation with the United States if the U.S. and North Korea were to go to war. Daniel Schearf reports from Beijing.
Over the past three years, Beijing has generally sided with the United States and other nations trying to persuade North Korea to abandon its nuclear weapons programs.
But Teng Jianqun, an arms control specialist for the China Arms Control and Disarmament Association, says that if the dispute ever led the U.S. and North Korea into war, it might be in Beijing's interest to defend North Korea.
"It's not the Chinese will to go to war," he said. "But, they have to protect the … for example, the border, the interests in this region."
Teng noted that China is bound by a 1961 mutual defense treaty with North Korea. He said the ultimate interpretation of that treaty would be up to Chinese leaders. He warned, however, that a conflict would be disastrous for China.
He said that any instability in Northeast Asia could interrupt China's economic development. In the past 20 years, China has become on of the world's leading manufacturing powers.
Teng, who is the association's deputy secretary-general said he was not speaking for the Chinese government. His meeting with foreign journalists Wednesday was organized by the All-China Journalists' Association.
But his association operates under the supervision of the Chinese Foreign Ministry.
Ever since the North Korean nuclear dispute erupted in late 2002, China has taken every opportunity to call for a diplomatic solution. Beijing has been the host of several rounds of six-nation negotiations aimed at ending the North's nuclear programs, and has prodded both Washington and Pyongyang to be flexible.
China and the U.S. have clashed militarily before. China fought alongside North Korea in its war against the South in the early 1950s. The United States led a United Nations force in support of South Korea.
Beijing's relations with the U.S. have improved dramatically since then, but many regional experts say the Chinese leadership would not like to see the U.S. military on North Korean territory, so close to the Chinese border.
Teng said financial sanctions that the U.S. imposed on North Korea in late 2005, and Pyongyang's nuclear test last October, have complicated the dispute. He is pessimistic about the outcome of the six-party talks and he urged the U.S. to take the first step in resolving the issue by removing the financial sanctions.
The other three parties to the talks are South Korea, Japan and Russia.