April 5, 2013

Analysis: N. Korean aggression could strengthen US-China bond

Lara Jakes / The Associated Press

(Continued from page 1)

Much of the bellicosity is seen as an effort to shore up loyalty among citizens and the military for North Korea's young leader, Kim Jong Un. But U.S. and U.N. sanctions against Pyongyang after the February nuclear test fueled tensions and began the unusually high level of threats.

It's also a response to annual U.S.-South Korean military drills that — intentional or not — antagonize the North. The ongoing drills have shown a conspicuous display of firepower, including flying American bombers and fighter jets in recent weeks over South Korea and off the Korean peninsula's coast, where a U.S. missile-defense ship also has been deployed.

North Korea's military issued a statement saying its troops have been authorized to counter U.S. "aggression" with "powerful practical military counteractions," including nuclear weapons. Experts doubt Pyongyang is able to launch nuclear-tipped missiles, although the extent of its nuclear arsenal is unclear.

China historically has been lax on enforcing international sanctions against the North. But in what the U.S. took as a positive development, China signed on to stiffer measures in the latest round of U.N. Security Council sanctions announced after the February nuclear test, and there are initial indications that it's increasing cargo inspections. Whether this will lead to concrete steps that will crimp North Korea's weapons' programs and illicit trade in arms, however, remains to be seen.

Patrick Cronin, an Asia expert at the Center for a New American Security and a senior State Department official during the George W. Bush administration, said Beijing also is helping set up back-channel negotiations with North Korea to ease the tensions.

But ultimately, he said, the U.S. isn't likely to succeed in winning China over as a reliable partner against North Korea beyond the current flare-up.

"There is an opportunity for the U.S. and China to renew cooperation on a North Korean strategy," Cronin said. "But we can't put all of our hopes on that cooperation, because it's been less than satisfying in the past. There are limits to how far China and the U.S. have coincidental interests with regard to North Korea. But it's not enough — because, more likely, we're likely to fail."

Asia expert and peace activist Hyun Lee agreed that Washington will be unlikely to turn Beijing against North Korea in the long run. But she said China does not want to see a stepped-up U.S. military presence in the region, and Beijing certainly doesn't want a war on its borders.

China "doesn't want to deal with headaches like the tension between the U.S. and North Korea," said Lee of the Working Group for Peace and Demilitarization in Asia and the Pacific. "I think China is trying to restrain both sides."

 

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