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Chinese Concerns Over North Korea & Vietnam

What is the US up to in North Korea and Vietnam? That is the most worrying question for Beijing today and not the question, what is the US up to in India. There is very little excitement and there are very few signs of concern in political and military circles in Beijing and in the community of Chinese analysts over the forthcoming visit of President Barack Obama to India in November. In contrast, every US move relating to North Korea and Vietnam and even the visits of junior US officials to Vietnam are being closely monitored and analysed.

2.Is the US trying to use North Korea and Vietnam not only to counter the emergence of China as a major military power in the Pacific, but also to weaken China politically in the same way as the US used China against the USSR? Are the US and South Korea acting jointly to bring about a regime change in North Korea and encourage the emergence of a new leadership that would be favourable to the US interests? Can China count on the loyalty to China of a new regime in Pyongyang if Kim Jong-il is succeeded — as he is expected to be—by his youngest son Kim Jong-Un ? What would be the attitude of the North Korean military leadership if a new regime in Pyongyang wants to move closer to the US? Its attitude would be very important because in the early stages of a new leadership, the North Korean Army’s role in policy-making would be important.

3. These are the questions worrying Beijing in an increasing measure. The Chinese concerns over the question”What next, after Kim Jong-il?” are reflected in the fact that Kim Jong-il, who had visited China only a few weeks ago, is reportedly again on an unpublicised visit—-this time with his youngest son and expected successor— to China. Is the visit meant to reassure Beijing that it has nothing to fear from his son?

4. The increasing bonhomie between Washington and Hanoi is another issue of immediate concern to China.How should China counter this—- by increasing pressure on Hanoi or by making overtures to it? How to counter the openly-proclaimed US assertiveness in the South China Sea? What to make of the lack of concern in the South-East Asian countries over the US assertiveness? Is there already a secret understanding between the US on the one side and Vietnam and the Philippines on the other to counter Chinese designs in the area?

5. The way Beijing has been trying to bully Manila over its mishandling of the bus hijacking incident in which eight Chinese tourists from Hong Kong died on August 23,2010, stands in sharp contrast to China’s refraining from any criticism of Pakistan after the attacks on some Chinese nationals by the Pakistani Taliban after the raid by the Pakistan Army into the Lal Masjid of Islamabad in July 2007. In Pakistan too, there have been instances of Chinese engineers being taken hostages by different terrorist groups. The Chinese showed understanding of the difficulties faced by the Pakistani security forces and avoided any open criticism.

6. In Manila, it was not an act of terrorism. It was an irrational act of a dismissed police officer, who wanted his job back. The situation was definitely mishandled by the police. The Chinese over-reaction to the incident should be of concern to Manila. Whereas Beijing never issued an advisory to its nationals not to visit Pakistan, it has advised its nationals not to visit the Philippines. The Chinese never claimed a right to monitor the Pakistani enquiries into the incidents, but they are claiming a right to monitor the investigation in Manila.

7. Is the evident Chinese bullying of Manila an outcome of its unhappiness over the assertive policy of the Filippino Government in the South China Sea and its perceived support of the US assertiveness?

8. These are questions which need to be closely studied in the coming weeks and months. Two significant writings having a bearing on Chinese concerns over North Korea and Vietnam carried by the Party controlled “Global Times” are annexed.

( The writer, Mr B.Raman, is Additional Secretary (retd), Cabinet Secretariat, Govt. of India, New Delhi , and presently, Director, Institute For Topical Studies, Chennai, and Associate of the Chennai Centre for China Studies. E-mail: )


US-S.Korea drill aimed at fall of North

Editorial carried by the “Global Times” on August 26,2010

Signs of the ongoing US-South Korea military drill show that the joint war game is not simply a warning or a show of force after the sinking of the Cheonan, nor is it a deliberate attempt to provoke China in the Yellow Sea.

China has to be careful of the two allies’ strategic goal, which is to create turmoil in North Korea in the face of a pending political power transition.

China must also be wary of the US putting the entire Korean Peninsula under its influence.

The two Koreas have been deadlocked for nearly six decades. Not many people believe the situation can last forever.

Any change will mean a massive strategic change of power in Northeast Asia, as well as a change in the global balance of power.

Washington has made plans in the event of various scenarios, and has long been trying to push the situation in the direction that favors a US global strategy.

To put it simply, the US has never changed its basic policy toward North Korea, which is to ensue a regime change.

Although Washington is not openly talking about the policy, its goal remains to overthrow the current North Korean government.

The US-South Korean joint military exercises are a move to accelerate this momentum. It is a strategy to push and prepare for change, and take the initiative if the regime change really happens.

The controversial sinking of the South Korean battleship, in retrospect, is more like a convenient excuse for the US to conduct a long-planned drill that envisions the occupation of the North, rather than a single reaction toward an emergency.

US military leaders have been drawing up such plans since the end of last year.

The South’s unification ministry has also admitted that the South was practicing a “stabilization” program aimed at turning North Koreans into South Korean citizens.

The Korean Peninsula is too important to ignore in the realm of global geopolitics. US control of the peninsula will pose a realistic threat to China and Russia.

North Korean leadership is expected to change hands soon. The world is watching the change closely, as North Korea is still not back to the Six-Party Talks that aim to persuade it to drop its nuclear weapon program.

A smooth transition of power in the North is vital for the stability of Northeast Asia.

China needs to clearly realize this, and try to play an active role in preserving the peace on the Korean Peninsula, as well as look after its own interests.

Shifting Vietnam remains a partner, not a rival, to China An article carried by the “Global Times” on August 25,2010

By Su Hao

Vietnam has been moving closer to the US recently, and conflicts between China and Vietnam in the South China Sea are moving from potential problems into serious ones.

As it grows its economy, Vietnam is looking for maritime interests for future development.

In order to strengthen its role in South China Sea and gain the power to bargain with China, Vietnam is in dire need of an external power that can offer support. The US is the best source. By chance, the US has been adjusting its strategy to strengthen the containment of China in Asia.

But we cannot simply define Vietnam as a nation that is confronting China due to its current pro-US tilt in foreign policy. As neighboring countries, China and Vietnam have built a strategic partnership and the bilateral relation is running on a sound base.

We should make full use of this sound foundation to enhance and promote the bilateral relations within a framework of friendly cooperation.

Facing a Vietnam leaning toward the US, we should try our best to rebalance its position. A Vietnam balanced between China and the US would be in China’s ultimate interests.

In the past, we assumed that China and Vietnam could stand together to handle issues with the US because of our similar political systems. However, the reality contradicts with the assumption.

Although the US often criticizes Vietnam over problems of political democracy and human rights, it is not a big obstacle in US-Vietnam relations, and cannot prevent strategic coordination and cooperation between the two countries.

Vietnam has close economic ties with China. However, business conflicts go along with cooperation. In trade between China and Vietnam, one serious problem is that Vietnam has the unfavorable trade balance.

Vietnam attributes its slow economic recovery and development to the abundant cheap goods imported from China, and criticizes China for dumping goods into its market. In order to cater to increasing public demand and support construction, it has to import consumer and capital goods from aboard. And the best supplier is China.

There are structural contradictions between China and Vietnam. We should try our best to mitigate them and emphasize mutual needs.

One of the key issues in the national strategy of Vietnam is to gain the leadership of ASEAN by promoting regional integration within the organization. This is a basic strategic choice of it.

From the perspective of regional cooperation, Vietnam needs China, since China plays a prominent role in the process of ASEAN regional integration, and without China’s support and coordination, the integration process will be very difficult to implement.

And from a security perspective, in addition to the traditional maritime sovereignty dispute, there are many other complex security issues that concern both China and Vietnam, such as non-traditional security issues.

Although the US is conducting military exercises with Vietnam in the name of maritime disaster relief at present, if there were a disaster at sea, the real and urgent help provided to Vietnam would be from China, not the US.

What’s more, Vietnam faces the same challenges of drought and flood as China does. We could spare our attention to aid it at the same time solving our own problems.

Vietnam is an agricultural country and the second largest rice exporter in the world. Nevertheless, its agriculture is relatively underdeveloped.

As another agricultural country, China could provide valuable expertise in intensive cultivation to Vietnam. Cooperation with Vietnam in this aspect could be strengthened.

Vietnam’s strategic thinking is based on challenging China, but has to depend on China out of real demands, which resulted in its ambiguous and contorted diplomatic attitude toward China. We should try to weaken the confrontation from other aspects.

The South China Sea dispute between China and the Vietnam is still manageable, and unlikely to lead to the breakdown of bilateral relations.

As the largest interested party and the most influential country in the dispute, as long as China keep calm, take the initiative and stick to the established policies to deal with the issue, the dispute will not grow beyond our control.

Global Times reporter Yu Jincui compiled this article, based on an interview with Su Hao, a professor of diplomacy in China Foreign Affair University.

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