Photo released by Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) on March 15, 2012 shows leader of the Democratic People's Republic of Korea (DPRK) Kim Jong Un (Front) inspects a combined strike drill of the three services of the Korean People's Army. Photo: Chinanews.com
Pyongyang announced Friday its plan to launch a satellite next month, setting off another round of condemnation from South Korea, Japan and the US. China summoned North Korea's ambassador to China to express its concerns. A sense of nervousness is seemingly shrouding the Korean Peninsula.
China appears to be put in an awkward position every time Pyongyang makes a surprise move. It has to maintain a balance between preventing radical actions in the Peninsula and keeping friendly ties with North Korea.
Pyongyang is acquiring a stronger nuclear ability and strategic striking power despite daunting external pressure.
Seoul, Tokyo and Washington are hoping China exert more pressure on North Korea. They are counting on the fact that China can eventually bring Pyongyang to its knees.
But it's a flawed logic. China should distance itself from the policy these three countries insist on. They need to answer the question of why the financially strapped North Korea is obsessed with developing strategic weapons, and why it barely cares about the condemnation from international community.
The reason is simple: North Korea feels insecure.
It has long been haunted by a fear of outside invasion or intervention. It needs nuclear weapons and missile power to be able to strike US territory to prevent any external threats.
As long as South Korea, Japan and the US do not give North Korea a sense of security, it will not stop lashing back at them.
Pyongyang, left behind on Northeast Asia's road to prosperity, has been turning a deaf ear to the criticism. With decades-old sanctions still in effect, it has nothing more to lose.
North Korea's concept of security has become extreme, but so have the security requirements of Seoul, Tokyo and Washington toward Pyongyang.
The three countries fear being struck by North Korea despite the extreme asymmetry in the balance of power.
China is not able to persuade North Korea, largely because it is not able to persuade Seoul, Tokyo and Washington. Pyongyang's action is responsive.
The world should have a clear mind of China's role in the Korean Peninsula.
If China had not done its part, the situation could have been much messier. But the North Korean issue is not under China's control.
Keeping friendly ties with North Korea is important to China. It is a starting point for China to exert influence, and also in its fundamental interests in Northeast Asian diplomatic affairs.
China should seek new ways to influence North Korea. It is not simply yielding to North Korea's demand, but it cannot shape North Korea according to the will of Seoul, Tokyo and Washington.
China needs to tell North Korea the truth. Pyongyang and its people will suffer the most if the impasse persists.