Senator Bob Corker, ranking republican on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee published an op-ed in The Wall Street Journal today on China’s unwillingness to pressure its troublesome ally, North Korea. Puzzled by what he sees as Chinese indifference to North Korean belligerence, the senator warns of the potential consequences of allowing Pyongyang to continue its current behavior.
The op-ed, titled “Does China Really Want a Nuclear Japan and South Korea?” discusses the difficult process of reassuring allies in the region of the US commitment to extended deterrence. If the UnitedStates fails to make its allies feel safe under its nuclear umbrella, the Senator warns, South Korea and Japan could end up seeking to develop a deterrence capability of their own, i.e. nuclear weapons. Such an outcome would be unfortunate, not only for the US, but for China as well. To avoid it, the senator urges more US pressure on China to keep its supposed ally in line.
As tensions in the region are higher than they have been for a long time, there are good reasons to be worried about North Korea. Secretary of State John Kerry recently completed a three day tour of the region intended to alleviate the concerns of local allies, as well as enlist China’s support in resolving the current crisis.
Secretary Kerry’s pursuit of a diplomatic solution to the standoff should not be taken for timidity, but rather as the best way to delicately handle an extremely difficult situation.
Taking the long and often unconditional Chinese support for the North Korean regime into account, Chinese willingness to acknowledge the problem as well as their stated goal of a denuclearized Korean Peninsula, are both great steps forward.
Although nothing is certain when it comes to North Korea, it is worth noting that the rocket test that was feared to occur in connection with their April 15 national holiday never happened. Chinese cooperation, however slight, and Secretary Kerry opening for conditional talks, may have significantly contributed to the current pause in hostilities.