April 12, 2013
Against the backdrop of Pyongyang issuing daily warnings about nuclear Armageddon, Chinese leader Xi Jinping’s indirect apparent rebuke of North Korea soothed the world’s frayed nerves. Encouraged, the US urged China to do more to nudge North Korea off its belligerent course. That effort seems to have failed: North Korea did not budge from the intention to test-fire a medium-range rocket.
The latest episode provides further evidence that China’s ability to impose behavioural change on its wayward neighbour is limited at best. Beijing’s embarrassment at North Korea’s recalcitrance is, however, insignificant in comparison to an alternative outcome of Chinese pressure – the collapse of a neighbouring socialist state. Indeed, close neighbour Burma’s flirtation with the US is an irritant but the arrival of US ally South Korea onto China’s border would be unacceptable.
Speaking at a China-sponsored international forum, China’s president and party secretary Xi Jinping issued a veiled admonition that was interpreted by the western media as aimed at North Korea. No country, he said, “should be allowed to throw a region and even the whole world into chaos for selfish gain”. Chinese foreign minister Wang Yi was a bit more direct in spelling out China’s stake: “We oppose provocative words and actions from any party in the region and do not allow troublemaking on China’s doorstep.” The media commentators applauded China for rapping North Korea’s knuckles.