China’s Korea policy ‘in tatters’ as both North and South defy sanctions

The Washington Post reports: More than half a century ago, hundreds of thousands of Chinese troops died in the Korean War, fighting on the side of their communist allies in the North against the U.S.-backed South. Yet today, China finds itself in the uncomfortable position of falling out with both sides on the Korean Peninsula.

On Monday, South Korea announced that it would press ahead with the “swift deployment” of a U.S. missile defense system despite vociferous Chinese opposition.

In February, China said it was cutting off coal imports from North Korea in accordance with sanctions imposed by the U.N. Security Council in a bid to persuade the North to abandon its nuclear and missile program. On Sunday, North Korea ignored China’s pleas not to raise regional tensions by conducting another missile test, albeit one that failed.

China has also imposed unofficial and unilateral sanctions against South Korea to persuade it not to deploy the missile defense system, experts say. On Monday, as Vice President Pence warned North Korea not to test U.S. resolve, South Korea’s acting president, Hwang Kyo-ahn, vowed to rapidly deploy that system, known as Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD).

“Even before the United States upped the tempo, China was in the unusual position of having really very bad relations with both the North and the South — that’s something of an accomplishment,” said Euan Graham, director of the International Security Program at the Lowy Institute in Sydney. “Its peninsula policy was in tatters, and things have only got worse since.”

China is not alone in struggling to construct a successful policy toward North Korea, as the United States can attest. But the failure of its approach has seldom been more starkly outlined, as Pyongyang presses ahead with its nuclear program, the United States sends an aircraft carrier strike group to the region and fears of military conflict mount, analysts say.

Beijing and Washington share the same goal — a peninsula free of nuclear weapons — but they often appear to be trying to realize that goal in mutually incompatible ways.

Under President Barack Obama, the United States tried to isolate and pressure North Korea economically, an approach that China argues has raised tensions and forced its leader, Kim Jong Un — and his father before him — into a corner.

China had banked on a different approach, believing that building up North Korea’s economy would gradually bring about more moderate politics. That policy, though, has simply given North Korea the resources and the technology to build up its nuclear and missile programs, experts say. [Continue reading…]

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