China faces NK dilemma

By Chu Daye in Dandong and Shan Jie in Beijing Source:Global Times Published: 2016/9/23 0:23:39 Last Updated: 2016/9/23 0:28:39

Land transport ban could cause humanitarian crisis

South Korean soldiers play both the role of South Korean forces and North Korean soldiers during a re-enactment of the 1950 Battle of Nakdong River marking its 66th anniversary in the town of Waegwan, Chilgok county on Thursday. Photo: AFP

China's lukewarm response to the South Korean envoy's call for a land transport ban to North Korea shows the country's geopolitical dilemma, as it supports the denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula but fears North Korea's downfall might bring a humanitarian crisis at its doorstep, analysts said.

Wu Dawei, China's special representative on Korean Peninsula affairs and Head of Delegation to the Six-Party Talks, met his South Korean counterpart Kim Hong-kyun in Beijing on Thursday to discuss North Korea's recent nuclear tests.

Yonhap News Agency quoted sources as saying "Kim urged China to take a tougher stance on North Korea, including a land transport ban to the reclusive state." Wu reportedly said China will not accept Pyongyang's development of nuclear weapons in discussions on new sanctions.

Although China agreed to urge North Korea to change its attitude through new sanctions from the UN Security Council, it doesn't want sanctions to cause the North Korean government's downfall, said Yonhap.

"China is in a dilemma. On one hand, North Korea keeps challenging the international community with nuclear tests, which China has to respond to. On the other hand, when the US and South Korea call for tougher sanctions, China is concerned with North Korean instability or humanitarian issues," Jin Qiangyi, director of the Asia Studies Center at Yanbian University, told the Global Times on Thursday.

Jin said that deteriorating Sino-North Korean relations could close the door for dialogue between the two countries.

"We cannot have a nuclear-powered North Korea as our enemy," Jin noted.

Business suffers

The Global Times reporter found Thursday that trade on the Sino-North Korean Friendship Bridge was brisk, with trucks from both sides passing the bridge all day.

"There is no notable change in the number of tourists visiting North Korea through our firm given the [current] situation," a tour guide, who declined to be identified, told the Global Times at the Dandong Railway Station on Wednesday.

A taxi driver, whose uncle owns two heavy-haul trucks that shuttle between the two countries, told the Global Times that business is "not as good as before, partly due to the sanctions and the souring ties between the two nations."

Trade between China and North Korea remains generally stable, compared with the same period last year. Trade volume for April, May, June and July reached 2.84 billion yuan ($430 million), 2.72 billion yuan, 3.28 billion yuan and 2.8 billion yuan, respectively, customs data showed, compared to 2.95 billion yuan, 2.81 billion yuan, 2.81 billion yuan, and 3.09 billion yuan, respectively, for the same period in 2015.

However, military items or items for both civilian and military use were not included in the customs data, so the data hardly changed even as the Chinese customs office in Dandong strictly implemented UN Resolution 2270, which bans the arms trade, and equipment and technology involving nuclear, biological and chemical weapons, as well as aviation and rocket fuel.

Dandong customs authorities have busted several cases during the past six months, including sulfur trioxide hidden inside fertilizer bags or alloy hidden in steel plates.

Financial sanctions also effectively reduced trading of commodities, and a ban on imports of North Korean coal, iron ore, and rare metals also greatly reduced North Korean foreign exchange revenue, Lü Chao, a research fellow at the Liaoning Academy of Social Sciences, told the Global Times.

These could potentially reduce North Korean foreign exchange revenue by half, he noted.

"However, some materials still enter North Korea from China, which means there might be some loopholes that need to be closed, Jin said.

Crossing the red line

Two US supersonic bombers flew over South Korea on Wednesday, with one of them landing at an air base 40 kilometers south of the capital, the second such flight since North Korea's September 9 nuclear test, Reuters reported Wednesday.

Yonhap said it "made the closest-ever flight to North Korea as a warning against further provocations."

"North Korea is probably getting close to crossing the red line for the US to adopt military measures," Jin noted. "The US is the key variable in a potential military conflict, as a military option is 'unacceptable' to South Korea and China."

South Korean President Park Geun-hye on Thursday expressed concerns over possible provocations from North Korea, amid signs that Pyongyang may have completed preparations for another nuclear test and a ballistic missile launch, the Xinhua News Agency reported.

Posted in: Diplomacy

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