This exchange between U.S. ambassador Susan Rice and China’s Li Baodong doesn’t quite hit the level of Ambassador Adlai Stevenson’s October 25, 1962 “Until Hell freezes over” rejoinder to Soviet UN ambassador Valerian Zorin during the height of the Cuban Missile Crisis, but it belongs in the scrapbook.
Early today, the big power envoys squared off in a closed-door Security Council session over competing views about how the 15-nation body should react to North Korea’s missile launch.
Rice urged the Security Council to swiftly respond to North Korea’s surprise launch of a satellite (via a ballistic missile) with a statement condemning Pyongyang’s action as a violation of U.N. resolutions and characterizing it as a provocative act that “undermines regional stability.”
Li pushed back, saying that there was no need to condemn North Korea, and that its test constituted no threat to regional stability.
“That’s ridiculous,” Rice shot back, according to one of three council diplomats who described the encounter.
“Ridiculous?” a visibly angered Li responded through an interpreter. “You better watch your language.”
“Well, it’s in the Oxford dictionary, and Churkin — if he were in the room — he would know how to take it,” retorted Rice.
Maybe throwing an elbow is just the sort of skill a secretary of state needs. It’s a big test for the woman who might have to succeed Hillary Clinton as secretary of state.
To achieve that, Ms Rice will have to work on China. The rocket launch is even more of an embarrassment to Beijing than it is to the US – given that China bankrolls the North Korean regime – and the Chinese foreign ministry has expressed “deep concern” over the test.
However, the real worry for China is that North Korea will conduct another nuclear test, a move that would expose Beijing’s close ties with Pyongyang to even more criticism. Chinese diplomats have argued that more stringent UN action against North Korea would increase the chances of another nuclear test. In the past, China has worked diligently to water down UN action against Pyongyang. After the failed rocket test in April, the US proposed that dozens of companies be named for evading existing sanctions on North Korea: China accepted just three.
No, Beijing is not embarrassed, and Ambassador Rice will need to expose Beijing’s complicity. She’s off to a good start.