Comments on Greg Sheridan “Three lessons from Pyongyang's test”, 29/05/2009, http://www.theaustralian.news.com.au/story/0,25197,25547827-5013460,00.html
Sheridan’s lesson number 2 is that “China is overestimated as a geo-strategic partner and as a central player in any solution to the problems North Korea presents.” It is both correct and incorrect.
It is correct because the six party talk processes so far has been a failure and is not up to the expectations of many. In that regard, the expectation that China could play a pivot role in solving the North nuclear problem has been shattered, and China has failed to deliver the realisation of that expectation. Further China was disappointing as a geo-strategic partner and a central player to have brought a resolution to the denuclearisation in the Korea peninsular.
Yet it is also incorrect and wrong. First, if Sheridan is correct in analysing the reality and China’s perceived interests in the regional peace, stability and security, then Sheridan should realise that a long term solution to the peace, stability and security of the Northeast Asia region should be to ensure that every country in the region feels peace and secure.
While the most important first steps are to prevent the North Korea to completely halt its nuclear programs and dismantle the related facilities, the next step is the disarmament of the Korea peninsular, including the eventual withdrawal of the US forces from the peninsular. That will remove the main excuse for the North Korea to develop its nuclear programs. It will also give China some regional security assurance.
If the long time disarmament is on the agenda, it is much more likely for both North Korea and China, and possibly Russia to see the end of North Korea’s nuclear facilities. China will be “a geo-strategic partner and a central player in any solution to the problems North Korea presents”.
So far, the focus of the six party talks have been on the nuclear issue and every party has been unable to face the broader strategic context and raise the question that is necessary following the end of the nuclear issue. That appears to have been the key issue that Sheridan number 2 lesson implies, but he failed to see and mention the broader issue.
How will China view the future unification of the two Koreas? Whether China likes it or not, it is a matter for the Koreas to sort out. But given China has its own unification of the mainland and Taiwan, it is unlikely to overly resist any moves of the Korean unification. It will be much easier for China to see a unified Korea if there is no presence of other external forces, because what is the purpose of their presence if there is no division of the Koreans?
So it appears that Sheridan only touched the surface of the peace and security of the Korea peninsular and the Northeast Asia when he was analysing the “lessons from Pyongyang's test”. If he thinks more strategically and has a real interest in seeing an effective resolution to Pyongyang's tests, it is not too difficult for him to see the bigger picture as a foreign affairs analyst.