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Report: China Won’t Curb North Korean Missile Program

By | July 17, 2006

      Even as the United States implores China to use its leverage to restrain North Korean ambitions to develop nuclear-tipped long-range missiles, China has no intention whatever of wielding its influence to that end, a new report states.

      In other words, the United States is left to its own devices, forced to erect its own missile defense when confronted by a rogue regime bent on acquiring awesome military powers.

      While China postures by voicing “concern” that North Korea on July 4 fired a series of missiles, it is clear that China “has little interest in restraining Pyongyang,” according to the new paper by John J. Tkacik, Jr., senior research fellow in China policy in the Asian Studies Center of the Heritage Foundation, a conservative Washington think tank.

      The proof of China’s permissive attitude toward North Korea is seen in the Beijing “unwillingness to work towards serious sanctions on North Korea,” Tkacik asserted.

      “What are we to make of the disconnect between Chinese rhetoric and action?” Tkacik asked. “In many ways, it reflects a disconnect between the Chinese People’s Liberation Army (PLA)–which almost certainly does not share any real concerns about North Korea’s missile provocations–and Chinese diplomats, who have largely been kept out of the loop.”

      This is far more significant than a game of reading tea leaves as to relations between two Asian nations, he added.

      “At the end of the day, Washington needs to face the fact that without any Chinese interest in disarming North Korea there is no viable solution to the North Korean nuclear problem,” Tkacik concluded.

      When one steps back from this picture, it is perhaps bizarre that the United States is seeking help in curbing reckless missile launches from China, of all nations, Tkacik indicated.

      After all, China itself has committed similar acts.

      “Provocative missile launches are nothing new in the Asia-Pacific region,” Tkacik recalled. “In March 1996, China recklessly test-fired missiles into the Taiwan Strait in an attempt to intimidate Taiwan’s voters in the run-up to their first-ever free presidential elections.”

      It’s worth looking behind the scenes in Beijing to discover just who masterminded that dangerous display, according to Tkacik. Behind the curtain, he said, one finds the People’s Liberation Army, the Chinese pan-military organization.

      “That series of missile tests, which for several days virtually closed the heavily-traversed Taiwan Strait to all shipping and air travel, was the brain-child of the PLA and acquiesced to by then-President Jiang Zemin, who at the time had not yet consolidated his support among China’s military,” Tkacik wrote.

      And if one discovers just who is calling the shots for China in the current crisis with the adjacent nation, North Korea, as it fires off missiles, the PLA is the main player again, in complicit contact with the rogue nation. “Indeed, the real players in Beijing’s Korea policy are the PLA leadership,” Tkacik stated. “There is no doubt that the PLA is in close contact with its North Korean counterparts.”

      A Sino-North Korean pact obliges the Korean military leaders to “continue to consult . . . on all important international questions of common interests,” Tkacik quoted the document as providing. In return, China is to “render . . . every possible economic and technical aid in the cause of socialist construction” including “scientific and technical cooperation.”

      And the China-North Korea military connection is more than words on paper, according to Tkacik.

      “Just prior to the opening of the Beijing multilateral talks on North Korea’s nuclear weapons program in April 2003, North Korean Col. Gen. Jo Myong Rok camped out for four days in Beijing where he met with every top PLA leader,” Tkacik related.

      Another example: “In April 2006, Chinese defense minister Cao Gangchuan spent four days in Pyongyang, where according to the North Korean media, he and his KPA comrades discussed ways to ‘strengthen military ties’ and exchanged ‘valuable’ opinions,” Tkacik continued.

      He cited other meetings between Chinese and North Korean military leaders. And there was this, leading up to the fireworks of North Korea launching a flock of missiles on the Fourth of July:

      “Just days before the July 4 missile tests,” Tkacik noted, “Beijing is reported to have been the transit point for ten Iranian missile scientists who visited North Korea with the mission, according to Japanese government sources quoted in Tokyo’s Sankei Shimbun, ‘to confirm the performance of missile-related equipment introduced by China’ during launch preparations for North Korea’s Taepodong 2 missile.”

      Iran and North Korea are part of an axis of evil, according to the U.S. view. The United States, and European nations, are attempting with little success thus far to persuade Iran to abandon its nuclear materials processing program, which the Western powers fear will lead to Iran producing nuclear weapons. If Iran on top of that were to obtain long- range missile technology, that would only increase Western concerns.

      “It is likely that those ten Iranians were at North Korea’s Musudanri launch base when the KPA launched the Taepodong 2 missile to mark the July Fourth celebrations, and at least some of the Iranians may have been at the Kitdaeryong base for the tests of North Korean Scuds and Nodong missiles,” Tkacik wrote. “After all, there is no better way to ‘confirm the performance’ of Chinese components in North Korean missiles than to observe several test firings.”

      In other words, Tkacik’s report ties together three major fears in U.S. military strategy: China, North Korea and Iran.

      Earlier this month, Tkacik observed, “State Department spokesman Sean McCormack, when asked about the Teheran-Pyongyang missile nexus, simply acknowledged that ‘one of [North Korea’s] only exports aside from counterfeit bills is weapons and weapons technology. That’s what they deal in. The bazaar is open as far as they are concerned.'”

      Ultimately, in Tkacik’s view, China wishes to permit North Korea to run loose with its missile development programs, and Beijing will provide no concrete action to restrain Kim Jung Il and his Korean government.

      “All of this explains why Chinese diplomats evince so much frustration when speaking about North Korea,” Tkacik explained. “The Chinese leadership does not seem to consider North Korea’s nuclear or missile ambitions to be diplomatic matters–except insofar as Beijing’s foreign ministry can use diplomacy to ease outside pressures on North Korea. North Korea is a military matter, and the evidence suggests that basic policies toward North Korea are handled by China’s PLA.”

      If the United States is expecting China to act as an ally, and restrain North Korea, then consider the reality of a Chinese vice minister telling journalists that North Korean missile launches were prompted by American financial sanctions, Tkacik noted.

      “Blaming Washington while covering for Pyongyang has been Beijing’s consistent stance since the North Korean nuclear contretemps began in October 2002,” he continued.

      And the latest launches of missiles found China continuing its unhelpful stance. “For the three weeks prior to the July Fourth missile tests, the Chinese foreign ministry could only admit to ‘noting’ unspecified ‘positions of various parties’ and having ‘serious concern’ over unspecified ‘current developments'” that weren’t defined, Tkacik recalled.

      And there was little critical comment from China after the North Korean missiles flew, he continued.

      “Beijing’s official statements show that Beijing steadfastly refuses to ‘condemn’ or ‘criticize’ Pyongyang on the missiles or anything else,” Tkacik asserted.

      U.S. officials up to and including President Bush have pressed China to use its leverage to pressure North Korea into dropping its dangerous programs, Tkacik recalled.

      “Instead, China is using its leverage on the U.S.,” he wrote.

      When a Chinese delegation to Pyongyang was expected by Americans to express “concern” over the North Korean actions, instead the delegation handed over a bouquet from Beijing. That included “a personal message from Chinese President Hu Jintao that offered ‘warm felicitations’ and averred that ‘Over the last 45 years both China and the DPRK have jointly accelerated the cause of socialist construction and defended the peace and stability of the region, respecting and supporting each other and closely cooperating with each other on the principle and spirit of the treaty,'” Tkacik observed.

      As well, Hu reaffirmed that “‘It is a steadfast strategic policy of the Chinese Party and government to steadily develop the Sino-DPRK friendly and cooperative relations,'” Tkacik wrote, adding: “These words speak for themselves,” and they say that China won’t act against North Korea.

      Tkacik said all these facts add up to a multi-part conclusion:

      *”Beijing is not interested in restraining North Korea’s behavior.

      *”Those in Beijing (and in the Chinese embassy in Washington) who wring their hands and claim to credulous American interlocutors that China has little leverage over North Korea are not telling the truth. Beijing supplies at least 90 percent of North Korea’s petroleum, and without petrol, North Korea’s armies cannot move. U.S. estimates are that China gives $500 million in food to North Korea each year. China controls all North Korean land transportation.

      *”China does not really fear a sudden inrush of North Korean refugees should its economy collapse. North Korea’s economy has nowhere lower to fall. As of August 2003, China had deployed 150,000 regular army troops at the Korean border to discourage crossings. And China’s protestations that it does not believe in economic sanctions would be incredible to Taiwanese businessmen and to Mongolians who found their only railroad link to the outside cut in November 2002 during the Dalai Lama’s visit. If Beijing believes North Korean nuclear and missile threats are as dangerous as the Dalai Lama, rail and pipelines into North Korea would have been shut down long ago.

      *”Without Chinese interest in disarming North Korea, much less moderating any of Pyongyang’s other odious behavior, there is no solution to the North Korean problem. It is now a fact of life. America’s new problem will be to retool its foreign policy to confront a world where China abets the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction and their delivery systems while the U.S. tries to rein them in.”

      Thus the United States is left to its own devices in countering a reckless and dangerous North Korean military drive to create nuclear weapons and long-range missiles, according to Tkacik. China won’t help to reduce the threat.

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