Some idealists call for enhancing mutual trust to dissolve suspicions, while some observers propose giving North Korea a chance to show its peaceful intentions.
It seems that many are underestimating the strategic considerations by countries involved in this incident. In fact, both sides have pondered before taking any actions, and seek to achieve several things at one stroke. Before long, people will find that in this game, the one who’s exposed to a real diplomatic ordeal is a party who’s not directly involved, China. China’s diplomacy may face up to five painful tests after the launch.
The first test is whether China should accept North Korea’s invitation to send observers to watch the satellite’s launch live. In a bid to demonstrate its peaceful intentions, North Korea has invited space agencies of eight countries to observe the planned satellite launch. The aerospace agencies of US, Japan and Russia have rejected the invitation, and now China has to make a choice.
If China accepts the invitation, this behavior itself would be a sign of support for the satellite’s launch, which contradicts China’s earlier voicing of concern of this satellite launch plan, and will inevitably trigger doubts and speculation among the international community. Besides, China will be forced to stand at the side of countries suspected of nuclear proliferation. But if China refused to send observers, it will face explicit anger and even further counteractions by North Korea.
The second test is whether China should raise a protest if the satellite deviates from its planned orbit and passes over the territory of Japan and South Korea.
North Korea may move the orbit westward, which raises the possibility of passing over Chinese territory. If this really takes place, and China voices its protest, the relationship between the two will plummet suddenly. But if China keeps silent, the public will surely be unhappy and doubt the government’s credibility.
The third test is whether China should vote for or against the likely draft resolution by the US, Japan and South Korea, after North Korea’s satellite launch is brought again to the UN Security Council for discussion. At that time, everyone will focus on China’s attitude.
China will have three choices. The first will be to support a draft resolution condemning North Korea, which will win applause from most countries in the international community, but enrage North Korea. The second is to exercise its veto. Then the US, Japan and South Korea will further see China as a supporter of North Korea’s “aggressive behavior” and as representing North Korea’s interests, and this will place greater pressure on China’s diplomatic, political and military affairs. China’s diplomatic and neighboring environment will further deteriorate.
China will most likely turn to the third option, proposing the release of a mild and symbolic chairman’s statement. But this option is most embarrassing and satisfies neither side.
The fourth test is which stand China will choose toward North Korea’s follow-up actions. No matter the UN Security Council passes a draft resolution or a chairman’s statement, North Korea will undoubtedly give an intense response.
At that time, it will be a question whether China should continue its long-held North Korea policy or conduct some adjustment. This is not only a problem of diplomacy and international politics, but one of domestic politics.
The fifth test is when facing the increasingly dangerous Peninsula dynamics, how China should respond to external criticism against China’s “generous aid” to North Korea. As North Korea has just experienced a leadership shift, China, with the stability-first mentality, has provided a great deal of food, oil and financial aid to North Korea.
This has been criticized by the international community as providing aid to a country that insists on military-first politics and nuclear development. US President Barack Obama has publicly censured China as being responsible for a series of moves by North Korea at the moment. It is a difficult problem how China can convince the international community that its aid to North Korea has nothing to do with this country’s current words and behaviors.
On Peninsula dynamics, there is some strategic thinking which advocates the return of Cold War structure and clique politics. China is embarrassed in this process. In recent years, the Peninsula dynamics have been full of rapid, unpredictable changes. But understanding these takes real wisdom.
I’m no idealist, but for the life of me I never cease to wonder how the North and South Koreans can translate a pitiful strategic liability into survival. It’s like watching a zombie flick: the humans (Japan, PRC, Russia, US) are more dangerous than the zombies (Koreans), because the humans fight amongst themselves.