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US lawmakers slam China over North Korea

By Stephen Collinson
Agence France-Presse
First Posted 07:48:00 11/24/2010

Filed Under: Foreign affairs & international relations, Armed conflict, Diplomacy

WASHINGTON?US lawmakers issued hawkish calls on China to do more to restrain "reckless" North Korea Tuesday, charging the sudden peninsular crisis showed that decades of ?appeasing? Pyongyang had failed.

After the nuclear-armed state's deadly artillery barrage on a South Korean island, Republicans demanded more pressure on Beijing from the White House, which has already had limited results in pressing China on its currency.

"Two decades worth of attempts to appease this North Korean regime have failed, and further attempts to do so will meet with the same result," said Senator John McCain, the defeated 2008 Republican presidential candidate.

"The Chinese government has perhaps the most influence on North Korea, and for the sake of regional security and stability, I urge China to play a more direct and responsible role in changing North Korea's reckless behavior."

Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, the incoming Republican chair of the House of Representatives Foreign Affairs committee, blasted Obama for being "too weak" on North Korea, and also had harsh words for Beijing.

"China, which wields significant influence over North Korea, must stop enabling the regime and join responsible nations in sending an unequivocal message to Pyongyang: abandon your aggressive agenda now," she said.

The committee's current Democratic chairman also singled out Beijing, which US observers see as negligent in using diplomatic influence on North Korea as one of the isolated state's few economic partners.

"I especially urge China to play a more active role in persuading North Korea to stop its belligerence," congressman Howard Berman said.

"China should immediately suspend economic and energy assistance to show Pyongyang that its aggression has consequences."

Republican Senator Sam Brownback, an outspoken critic of human rights violations in North Korea, was more scathing.

"China should be embarrassed that its policy with North Korea is allowing the east Asian region to become destabilized."

Tuesday's congressional reaction was likely calculated as much to hike pressure on the Obama administration for a robust response to North Korea's behavior as motivated by any expectation that it would mould Chinese policy.

But the administration found itself in a delicate situation, with few obvious options to respond to Pyongyang's assault that would not inflame a highly dangerous situation.

The administration was already under pressure over revelations about Pyongyang's nuclear program, with apparent confirmation at the weekend from a US scientist that it had an advanced uranium enrichment plant.

Any attempt to further isolate and censure North Korea through the UN Security Council would require China's acquiescence as a permanent member, so a sharp administration critique of Beijing may prove counterproductive.

US policymakers must also confront the fact ? as a recent attempt to challenge Chinese currency policy showed at the G20 summit ? that Washington's current diplomatic and political leverage over China is limited.

Also, China's overriding goal may be ensuring stability in the North Korean regime during a leadership transition, rather than sharing US and South Korean concern over Pyongyang's military posture and nuclear program.

Publicly, at least, there was no sign of more US pressure on China over Pyongyang Tuesday, as the administration pledged to work slowly through the six-party process, hosted by Beijing, to tackle the latest "provocation."

"I think that's really, frankly, the best way ... by presenting a unified, coherent front to North Korea, to make them aware of their isolation," said Mark Toner, a State Department spokesman.

A senior US official did note that Beijing had a "relationship with North Korea that could be constructive, so we're committed to working with them."

Stephen Bosworth, the US envoy on North Korea in Beijing, said he discussed the assault on the island with Chinese officials and both sides wanted to see "restraint."

The latest North Korean military action follows the sinking of the South Korean navy ship Cheonan in March, which Washington and its allies blamed on Pyongyang.

But Bruce Klingner, a former CIA expert on North Korea now with the conservative Heritage Foundation think-tank, told reporters that China was "part of the problem rather than the solution."

"One of the things that President Obama needs to do is press China to act in a responsible manner ... and to use the leverage that Beijing has with Pyongyang to get them to abide by their denuclearization commitment," he said.



Copyright 2014 Agence France-Presse. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.


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