China wants open Korea, not strategic buffer

By Ding Gang Source:Global Times Published: 2016-3-9 23:53:01

Illustration: Liu Rui/GT

A Global Times reporter asked a sharp question to Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi at a press conference held for the Fourth Session of the 12th National People's Congress Tuesday, asking whether North Korea is China's buffer zone or burden.

Some Chinese really regard North Korea as a security barrier that could effectively curb Washington's pressure against China. But now, the barrier has turned into more of a burden.

Yet referring to North Korea as a buffer zone reminds us of the landmine-filled Military Demarcation Line. The North Koreans could easily misunderstand this as that they are placed at the front by China to ward off Americans. The misinterpretation will intensify North Korea's concerns over China.

Pyongyang's nuclear weapons program has totally overlooked China's national security and put the safety of millions of Chinese into high risks. People living in China's Northeastern areas close to North Korea's nuclear test sites will not agree that North is China's strategic buffer zone, given the threat it has posed to their lives.

According to studies by Shen Zhihua, a professor at East China Normal University, North Korea never identified itself as China's strategic buffer zone even at the time when it was firmly supported by Beijing.

In fact, Pyongyang has been maneuvering for the maximization of its own strategic interests and maintaining its regime by taking advantage of contradictions in China-Russia and China-US relations.

North Korea is not China's strategic buffer zone, nor is South Korea one for the US. Washington has been exploiting Pyongyang's nuclear disputes to ratchet up its military presence on the Korean Peninsula.

If we hold firm to the belief that the peninsula will eventually be reunified, one certain thing is that US troops will have to withdraw on the same day.

The China-South Korea free trade agreement that took effect last year is the best indication of future relations between China and the two Koreas.

Neither a buffer zone nor a burden the Korean Peninsula means to China conforms to the latter's interests. North Korea should abandon its nuclear programs and step on the path of reform and opening-up. The public's well-being and prosperity in the Korean Peninsula is in line with China's interests. Beijing should commit more efforts to realizing this prospect.

Pyongyang's nuclear predicament is an outcome of the reshuffle of power structure during the re-establishment of a security framework in Northeast Asia and even the entire Asia. In order to have a dominant say in the new security framework, China must cope with North Korea's nuclear issues well.

China has been exerting a lot of efforts to improve relations with other Asian countries, but it is not to establish a new rivaling strategic system opposed to the US. Instead, Beijing intends to find a solution to the dangerous balance established by the US in the Cold War, which features all stakeholders hedging against each other militarily including through nuclear deterrence.

To resolve the problem, Pyongyang should be urged to abandon its nuclear weapons in exchange for more opportunities to escape international isolation.

Northeast China, if next to South Korea, rather than North Korea, would be highly likely to develop close trade and economic ties with Seoul, like Shandong Province. Confronted with difficulties in upgrading its industries, Northeast China is in dire need of a neighbor which has an open market and broad prospects for cooperation.

China-South Korea cooperation can be seen as an example. South Korea has invested a total of 11,843 projects in Qingdao by the end of July 2015, with contractual foreign investment reaching $25.93 billion and actual foreign investment $15.92 billion.

Once China breaks down the confrontational Cold War legacy in its own way, and gives impetus to development and growth in Northeast Asia, peace and stability can then be realized. This is also the essence of China's peaceful development and its strategy of building a community of common destiny.

The author is a senior editor with People's Daily. Follow him on Twitter @dinggangchina

Posted in: Ding Gang, Viewpoint

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