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China should safeguard its core interests vis-a-vis North Korea

Shi Yinhong, a renowned international politics expert and strategist, is US research center director of Renmin University of China. Shi was appointed as advisor to the State Council in 2011.

Shi's viewpoint: The North Korea nuclear issue is frustrating not only to China, but also to the international community. China lost a strategic opportunity to impose sanctions against North Korea with economic leverage in 2003. Therefore, safeguarding the core interests and maintaining the balance is China’s top priority at present.

No counters

Some observers think that South China Sea is the counter for China to solve North Korea nuclear issue, saying that China could unite Taiwan by force if the US attacks North Korea.

But Shi is opposed to the idea. “North Korea and South China Sea are both core interests of China. Taiwan and South China Sea are not bargaining counters for the peaceful denuclearization of North Korea,” Shi told the China Press, a US-based Chinese newspaper.

North Korea will be high on the agenda of the Nuclear Security Summit in Washington but it is not the best occasion to map out a solution due to the complexity of the issue. The summit will help drive the development of the issue, Shi said.

North Korea’s nuclear weapons will undoubtedly widen the divergence between major countries. China’s future strategy is to maintain the peaceful situation to have enough room for political maneuvering and meanwhile to promote the denuclearization of North Korea.

Late sanction

Since 2003, Shi has suggested that China take a hard line on North Korea with economic sanctions on hands. “I had been calling for 10 years until 2013 when President Xi Jinping took the advice. But it was too late,” said the 65-year-old.

The UN Security Council, based on unanimous decision, slapped a series of sanctions against Pyongyang in 2016 after its blatant nuclear tests in January to curb its nuclear development plan, and called for resumption of the stranded Six-Party talks. China also nodded to UN’s “toughest ever” sanctions on its neighbor.

Shi believes that China made concession when agreeing on the UN resolution. The compromise may postpone the deployment of THAAD missile defense system by the US and South Korea but will not change the possible move, he said.

Every country has its own calculations on the nuclear-armed Pyongyang. The US can kill two birds with one stone with the deployment of THAAD in light of its Asia pivot strategy, he said.

The counselor said there are three possibilities for the future of North Korea. First is the collapse of Kim Jong-un. Since taking office, Kim has executed his uncle, chief deputy and a cadre of advisers for alleged treason, raising doubts over his grip on leadership. Any turmoil in the isolated country may lead to the collapse of Kim and will hurt China.

Second, North Korea owns nuclear missiles. Pyongyang will be able to counter-attack any provocations and a war is around the corner.

Third, North Korea abandons its nuclear weapons but the chance is slim.

No matter what possibilities, China’s role is to safeguard its core interests instead of maximizing its interests, Shi concluded.

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