BEIJING — China’s foreign minister said Saturday that Beijing would not abandon North Korea, reiterating China’s long-standing position that dialogue, not sanctions, was the best way to persuade the North to abandon its nuclear weapons.
At a news conference during the National People’s Congress, the foreign minister, Yang Jiechi, suggested that China’s support for tougher U.N. sanctions against North Korea should not be interpreted as a basic change in China’s attitude.
“We always believe that sanctions are not the end of the Security Council actions, nor are sanctions the fundamental way to resolve the relevant issues,” said Yang, who addressed foreign policy questions from Chinese and foreign reporters.
But the careful remarks masked the unparalleled plain-spoken discussions among China’s officials and analysts about the value of supporting North Korea even as it continues to develop nuclear weapons and unleashes new threats to attack the United States and South Korea.
In the aftermath of North Korea’s third nuclear test in February, China last week joined the United States to push for tougher U.N. sanctions against the North. Although it remained to be seen whether China would actually enforce the sanctions, its decision to support them also raised the possibility that it might take even bolder steps against its recalcitrant ally.
The clearest sign of China’s exasperation with North Korea came on Thursday at a side session of the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference, an advisory group to the government that was open to the press.
Delegates to the conference, according to a senior Communist Party official, Qiu Yuanping, talked about whether to “keep or dump” North Korea and debated whether China, as a major power, should “fight or talk” with the North.
In the annals of Communist Party decorum, Qiu’s description of the spirited debate was quite extraordinary. She made the remarks in the presence of reporters at a session entitled “Friendship with Foreign Countries” that was attended by several Chinese ambassadors who were visiting Beijing from their posts abroad.
As deputy director of the Communist Party’s Central Foreign Affairs Office, a secretive body that gives foreign policy advice to top leaders, Qiu usually opts for discretion. The admission by a senior Communist Party official that North Korea is a nettlesome neighbor is especially striking because China conducts its relations with North Korea chiefly through the comradely auspices of the party, rather than the Foreign Ministry.
Just days before Qiu’s remarks, a prominent Communist Party analyst, Deng Yuwen, a deputy editor of Study Times, the journal of the Central Party School of the Communist Party, wrote that China should “give up” on North Korea.
Writing in The Financial Times late last month, Deng asked what would happen if the United States launched a pre-emptive attack on North Korea: “Would China not be obliged to help North Korea based on our `alliance.’ Would that not be drawing fire upon ourselves?”
Moreover, Deng wrote, there was no hope that North Korea would reform its economy and become a normal country, a path urged in the past several years by the Chinese government. Even if the North’s new ruler, Kim Jong Un, wanted reform, the entrenched ruling elite “would absolutely not allow him to do so,” because they knew reform would result in the overthrow of the government, Deng said.
Deng’s analysis was widely read, in part, because he has a habit of expressing provocative views that meld into the mainstream. Last year, he wrote an article that appeared in the online version of Caijing, a business magazine, that said failures had outweighed achievements in the decade-long rule of President Hu Jintao and Prime Minister Wen Jiabao. After the article appeared, the era of Hu and Wen was often referred to as the “lost decade.”
For all the concern about North Korea since the nuclear test in mid-February, there have been no concrete signs that China plans to take any action against the North beyond the U.N. sanctions.
Traders in Jilin province, which abuts North Korea in northeastern China, said there was not a noticeable slowdown of goods passing across the border. It is possible that there will be a crackdown on smugglers, but that has not happened yet, said an official in the Yanbian Prefecture in Jilin province, where much of the smuggling takes place.
It is doubtful that China will reinforce the U.N. sanctions by imposing penalties of its own, said Cai Jian, the deputy director of the Center for Korean Studies at Fudan University in Shanghai.MORE IN Wire News
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