ICAS Special Contribution

No. 2000-1017-WHT

China's Position Towards the Korean Peninsula

Tao Wenzhao

Institute for Corean-American Studies, Inc.

965 Clover Court, Blue Bell, PA 19422

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[Editor's note: We gratefully acknowledge this contribution to ICAS of the paper presented to ASEM 2000 People's Forum by Tao Wenzhao. sjk]

China's Position Towards the Korean Peninsula

Delivered at the ASEM 2000 People's Forum
October 17-20, Seoul

Tao Wenzhao
Research Professor and Deputy Director
Institute of American Studies
Chinese Academy of Social Sciences

The summit meeting between the North and South Koreas in June this year has changed the situation on the peninsula dramatically. Before that people were so pessimistic about the prospect of the peninsula. When I was attending the forum in November 1996 in Seoul organized by the Research Institute for International Affairs and the conference in October 1997 sponsored by the Korea Institute for Defense Analyses, the American participants, including the former CIA director Robert Gates, former Assistant Minister of Defense Richard Armitage, all were talking about "inevitable collapse" of the North, discussing about the contingency plan to deal with the situation it may cause. Actually, I was the only one who argued that the North Korean regime would survive. Now nobody is talking about its "sudden collapse" any more. And actually, some have turned to be very optimistic about the reunification of the peninsula. But I would like to warn them not to be too optimistic. We have our own experience. The cross Taiwan Strait relations were developing very rapidly from 1979 to 1995, and many Korean scholars at the time were so jealous of the relationship between the Chinese mainland and Taiwan. But after Taiwan's Li Denghui's visit to the United States in 1995 the cross strait relations have been suffering once and again. I hope that the reunification process of the peninsula will be quicker and more successful than China's reunification. But we should also be realistic and cautious about it. The gap left by the half century Cold War and separation can not be bridged overnight. And the economic discrepancy between the North and South is another obstacle in the road of unification.

China has been attaching great importance to the situation on the Korean peninsula. It has been an area where the great powers' interests converge as well as conflict. Then what has been China's policy towards the peninsula in recent years? I am not a speaker for the Chinese government. I am an independent scholar, and what I am going to talk about is based on my own observation. I would like to summarize it as follows.

Firstly, China's major interests in the peninsula is to keep peace and stability there. Whatever happens, if peace and stability can be preserved, that is fine. This principle comes from China's national goal for the next century. China is now determined to modernize itself. China needs a long lasting peaceful environment conducive to her economic construction. Peace and stability in China's neighboring countries is especially important to her modernization drive. The continuous tension on the peninsula is a destabilizing factor in the Northeast Asia. Obviously, it is not in China's own interests. And a Korean peninsula, stable, peaceful, not controlled by big powers certainly servers China's interests.

Secondly, China keeps traditional friendly relationship with the North, while develops its comprehensive relations with the South. China has a special relationship with the North. It has been China's consistent policy to support and sustain the North Korean regime. During the certain period of time the Democratic People's Republic of Korea suffered from the devastating natural disasters and was so isolated by the international society. China gave it badly needed help. Most recently, on October 9, President Jiang Zemin himself went to the DPRK's embassy in Beijing to celebrate the fifty-fifth anniversary of the establishment of the Korean Labor Party. The event itself shows how the Chinese leaders cherish the traditional friendship.

But China does not see any contradiction between supporting the North and developing its relations with the South. Since Mr. Deng Xiaoping launched the reform and openness, China has proclaimed once and again, that China carries an independent foreign policy. China will not base its relations with foreign countries on ideology and social system, and will decide its attitude towards any international affairs on their own merits. China's openness is omnibearing. China especially wants good relations with its neighboring countries. Quite naturally, China should open to the Republic of Korea. And since the normalization of diplomatic relations between China and the ROK in 1992, their bilateral relations in every aspect, political, economic, cultural, even military, have been developing tremendously. And the two sides have already benefited from this relationship. There is no need for reticence that for a period of time DPRK was not very happy to see the development of China's relations with ROK, and from 1994, after President Kim Il-sung's passing away until 1998, the relationship between DPRK and China was rather cool. From time to time we saw articles in The Labor News to criticize China's reform and openness, and there was no high level exchanges within five years between them. But this did not influence China's policy of reform and openness, neither its policy towards ROK. In June 1999 Mr Kim Young-Nam, the Chairman of the Steering Committee of the Supreme People's Congress of DPRK visited China, and four months later the Chinese Foreign Minister Tang Jiaxuan visited DPRK. This symbolized the resumption of the high level exchanges between the two countries, and their relations became warm again. And this year, before the summit between the North and South President Kim Jung-il visited Beijing. It further emphasized their special relationship. To sum, China has been carrying parallel policy towards the North and South. Its ties with the North do not hamper its relations with South, while its new relations with South does not weaken its friendship with the North. And this policy has been proved a successful one.

Thirdly, China supports peaceful reunification of the peninsula. First, China has deep sympathy towards the Korean people, who have been suffering from the national separation for a half century. The people from the North and South should be reunited together. They have the sacred right to do so, and it is now the time to finish the national tragedy. Second, we regard the peaceful negotiations as the only means workable. Third, China holds that the reunification is the internal affairs of the people on the peninsula, and China does not want to interfere in the matter. Nevertheless, the international society can be of great help or obstacle to this. If the international family, especially the big powers around the peninsula, tend to create a favorable environment to this, it will facilitate the reunification. Otherwise it can retard or hamper the process. China gives credit to President Kim Dae-joong's "sunshine policy", which has played a very constructive role to enhancing the mutual understandings between the North and South. We welcome any efforts in favor of reunification whether they are made by the North or South.. And we think that the recent summit is the real breakthrough in the Korean people's course for peaceful reunification.

Fourthly, China supports the non-nuclearization of the Korean peninsula. China certainly does not want to see a new nuclear power emerge from the Northeast Asia for a very simple reason: China wants stability rather than disturbance in the region. The nuclearization of the peninsula would break a delicate balance of power in the region and would certainly trigger an arms race here. China supports the Framework Agreement reached between the US and DPRK in October 1994 and maintain that it should be implemented truly. Having said that, we think that the nuclear question or missile question of DPRK should be dealt with appropriate method. After DPRK's launching of satellite in August 1998, some people in Japan and the US were so alarmed about DPRK's ability to launch long-rang missile, and the talks about Theater Missile Defense (TMD) at a time was so loud. But we do not think it is the correct or useful way to handle the problem.

Fifthly, China opposes Theater Missile Defense in Northeast Asia. China opposes National Missile Defense (NMD) by the United States in general, and the Theater Missile Defense (TMD) in Northeast Asia in particular for the same reason as mentioned above. TMD is as destabilizing as the nuclearization of the peninsula. Both would break the strategic balance in the region. Both would cause arms race. Both would make situation on the peninsula more complicated and difficult. We appreciate the announcement by ROK that ROK will not join the TMD. We think this is wise decision.

Sixthly, China supports the four -- party talks. China is the only country in the four parties that has normal relations with other three parties. Because of that China played constructive and special role in the talks. Although after six rounds of talks there is little practical result, the four-- party talks, nevertheless, are valuable for the following reasons. First, the talks relaxed tensions on the peninsula. Second, the talks have provided a vehicle for the antagonistic parties to keep in touch. Third, the talks have promoted the mutual understandings between the parties, and dispelled some misunderstandings. Fourth, it has created a favorable atmosphere for the recent North--South summit.

Seventhly, China supports integration of the DPRK into the world community. There are two sides with regard to this question: firstly, whether the world community welcomes it; secondly, whether DPRK wants to be integrated. As I mentioned at the beginning, for a period of time, the United States and the West World actually did not welcome it. They wanted the DPRK regime to collapse because they thought it would happen. As some participants at the conference in November 1996 said the international society should exercise joint pressure on the DPRK so that it would collapse sooner. During that time China consistently supported DPRK, helped it to overcome the difficulties. We think the only correct way is to engage it rather than isolate it. It is wrong to exert pressure or impose sanction on DPRK. The only correct way is sincere talks on the equal basis. We welcome Vice Chairman of the National Defense Commission Mr. Jo Myong-rok's recent visit to the United States. We hope this visit can finally thaw the icy relations between the two countries. And we think that the US should lift sanction on DPRK completely. Now the talks between DPRK and Japan aimed at establishing diplomatic relations are going to be upgraded from ambassadorial level to ministerial level. We hope the talks will soon yield satisfactory result. On the other hand, when DPRK did not want to open itself to the outside world and criticize China's openness, China in every case possible introduced China's own experience to DPRK, thus exerting its influence on DPRK But, of course, it is up to DPRK to decide how to open it, how quickly to integrate itself into the world community. It can not be open completely after so many years of living in seclusion. It must be a gradual process. And the international society should have patience in this regard.

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