Pressure is mounting on China to reprimand North Korea over the fatal sinking of the South navel vessel last month. South Korea and the United States are calling for stern international action against North Korea for torpedoing a South Korean warship. But Beijing, a North Korean ally, has not joined them, despite pressure from Washington.
Seoul says it is freezing trade with North Korea and will seek U.N. action for the killing of 46 sailors in the March incident. And U.S. Secretary Hillary Clinton, visiting Beijing this week, said she has been in intense discussions with the Chinese leadership on the issue.
But Daniel Pinkston, a North Korea expert with the International Crisis Group, believes many people overestimate Beijing's influence over North Korea and its leader Kim Jong Il.
"I certainly think they are not pleased with the incident but as far as taking any strong punitive measures against North Korea, it Is probably unlikely," said Pinkston. "I think the Chinese government will view that as counter productive, so I am not that hopeful for a strong U.N. Security Council resolution, or the introduction of any draft resolution, because China will try to water it down or veto it," Pinkston said.
China welcomed Kim Jong-il on a rare visit earlier this month but the substance of his talks with Chinese leaders was not revealed. China is a major source of food and fuel for its impoverished neighbor.
For nearly seven years, the Chinese government has taken a leading role in multinational negotiations to end North Korea's nuclear arms programs. But the talks have been stalled for more than a year and North Korea has tested two nuclear weapons.
Beijing has close economic ties with North Korea. Moreover, many experts on northeast Asia relations say China is very concerned about a possible collapse of the Pyongyang government. That could send a flood of refugees across its border with North Korea, and possibly lead to a united Korean peninsula dominated by a government that is friendly to the United States.
The tension over the Korean peninsula is affecting broad economic and security talks with the United States going on in Beijing this week. U.S.-Sino relations remain fragile after Beijing and Washington clashed for months over a range of issues including Tibet and trade imbalances.