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Foreign Policy

How Should China Change Its Policy Toward the Korean Peninsula

Sep 22 , 2016
  • Hu Bo

    Senior Fellow of the Pangoal Institution

Since North Korea conducts nuclear tests frequently and countries like the U.S., Japan, South Korea have strengthened their military deployments in and around the Korean Peninsula, China is facing unprecedented difficulties and challenges there. China has no way to prevent North Korea from having unclear missiles, unable to discourage those great powers from stepping up their military operations including the so-called terminal High-Altitude Area Defense system, or THAAD, and on the contrary, it has to pay for the stable situation at the expense of its political, diplomatic and security interests.

For whatever reasons, China has to change its policies and tactics toward Korean Peninsula. Two things China has to do are as follows:

Ⅰ Be clear about its interests in Peninsula and make the relevant policies clearer.

To make it clearer, China has to set a clear policy orientation toward the Peninsula. The peace and stability of Peninsula are of great concern to the national security of China, and China firstly seeks to safeguard its own security and stability on the issue of Peninsula. Since the Sui and Tang dynasties, China all got involved and affected amid a series of turbulences of Peninsula,. Whether the Peninsula brings strategic space or trap, whether it’s unified or split, China can’t tolerate any hostile forces in the region, or unrest and instability. Peace and stability is of China’s paramount interests in Peninsula and China is resolutely against any destructive forces.

To make it clearer also means China should regulate the relationships with North and South Korea. It is acknowledged that the relationships between China and the above two countries have been a little vague. With this kind of vague, it seems that China can get on well with the North and South to enjoy the best of both worlds and keep its policy as flexible as possible, but actually become more passive. As such, the core of a clear relationships between China and the above two countries is that, China should share traditional friendly relations with the North only in politics, economy, culture and other fields and stay away from each other’s military ally. One principle should be definitely followed in the Sino-Korean strategic cooperation that, ” the two countries shall not be allowed to compromise each other’s security for the sake of any third parties and its own security”

To make it clearer also implies to make a clear-sighted policy. China has taken a clear position on the Peninsula issue, named as “non-nuclear, no war and no chaos.” Then China needs to focus on the underlying principles and base-line of policy with its own pace.

Ⅱ strengthen our deterrent force and build the prestige of our words.

China has earnestly and maternally mediated among the related parties, particularly with North Korea and U.S. since the end of Cold War. However, in face with the policy of “non-nuclear, no war and no chaos”, due to insufficient support of corresponding force and action, China’s effort has not been taken seriously by North Korea and U.S.. The two countries are always shutting their eyes to what China have done and rotationally tossing in and around the Peninsula, resulting in an increasingly tensions.

As such, China should pursue a positive deterrence strategy and change passiveness into activeness. In view of the uncertainty concerning the situation in Peninsula, China should make detailed response plans for all foreseen situations including war. If one day China tells that the situation is beyond redemption, then it should initiatively nip the turbulence and conflict in the bud. China shall not hesitate to achieve this goal at any cost even being involved in the war, so as to avoid paying heavier price and making great sacrifice passively.

China also needs to strength the pertinence of its deterrence and be cautious to introduce a “one-two punch”. Though it seems powerful but may not be able to hit the needle and instead it would cause necessarily secondary hazards, which are not beneficial to maximize its own interests. For the peninsula, especially, China has set out many policy tools in various fields, so it is unnecessary to affect other fields because the conflict occurred in only one field. If the policy tool from one field is sufficient to cope with the situation, then China should focus on addressing the corresponding problems in their respective fields including military, security, diplomacy and economy.

Copyright: Pangoal Institution

(The Pangoal Institution is a public policy research organization that is joined by renowned scholars and practitioners in China and elsewhere.)

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