Public opinion may alter China’s NK policy

Source:Global Times Published: 2016-2-15 0:33:02

As the North Korean nuclear issue has turned pressing and perplexing, China can feel mounting pressure and growing challenges.

The Chinese public is paying increased attention to the issue and holds unprecedentedly complicated attitudes toward Pyongyang. What informs their views includes the traditional China-North Korea friendship, North Korea as China's buffer state, Pyongyang's repeated nuclear tests regardless of Beijing's opposition and alleged human rights abuses.

A growing number of Chinese, both elites and the general public, deem North Korea is China's burden and an annoying neighbor instead of an old friend. Two Chinese pundits that usually differ in opinion over Pyongyang both estimate that more than 60 percent of Chinese people are now in the former category.

Public opinion cannot be used to preside over foreign policies, but it is the cornerstone of contemporary Chinese diplomatic strategy. Changes in public opinion are altering the external environment of China's policy on North Korea and can be converted into pressure that pushes the Chinese government to ramp up sanctions against Pyongyang. The more China's policy in this regard departs from public opinion, the more political cost China has to pay.

The Chinese public has previously backed the authorities in taking sanctions against Pyongyang and meanwhile maintaining bilateral relations. But now they tilt toward actions to make Pyongyang feel pain for its obduracy. 

Unlike the hatred for Japan, Chinese people's dislike for North Korea is not ingrained, but most people have lost interest in taking care of this neighbor. These grievances will only grow if Pyongyang refuses to alter its nuclear policy.

Many Chinese have been impressed by the myriad of Western reports that the North Korean nuclear issue lingers because China rejects the imposition of sanctions and insists on a softer approach. They are also influenced by some Chinese pundits who exaggerate Chinese aid to North Korea. As the authorities do not often make an explicit stance, vague views are often embraced.

The North Korean nuclear issue is expanding and may jeopardize China's domestic political interests under some extreme circumstances. In that case, it may go beyond Northeast Asia and be more than a diplomatic issue. China has to prepare for this scenario.

The US simply steps up its warnings to North Korea, which does not work for Pyongyang. Washington wants to pull Seoul to its side and intensify the military pressure on China. China needs to stay alert and flexible and safeguard its bottom line.

Addressing North Korea's nuclear issue means not overly focusing on techniques and details. Only a grand strategy and determination can bolster one's effort to take the initiative. In modern times, China sometimes fails due to its feeble power, but never for inadequate wisdom and determination. As the People's Republic of China takes successful steps in almost every big strategy since its establishment, it will not falter in front of North Korea. 

Posted in: Editorial

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