An Active Role for China

China must use its influence to neutralize the North Korean security crisis

North Korea has long been considered a grave threat to global security due to its unapologetic nuclear ambitions. But on Oct. 9, 2006, the threat finally crystallized, as the North Korean government announced its first successful test of a nuclear weapon. The international community has acted quickly to address the mounting security crisis; on Oct. 14, the United Nations Security Council passed a resolution imposing sanctions aimed at keeping certain weapons, nuclear material, and luxury goods from entering North Korea.

The Security Council resolution reveals an interesting offshoot of North Korea’s dangerous, antagonistic behavior: the cooperation of China. Due to its veto power, Chinese support was necessary for any Security Council resolution. And in this case, they provided it.

China’s support of the Security Council sanctions is a good first step. The question now is whether China will make a good faith effort to enforce those sanctions, as the goods in question would very likely enter North Korea from China. Hopefully, the immediacy of this most recent crisis will make China’s surreptitious support for the North Korea—and other nuclear hopefuls, such as Iran—increasingly untenable.

China’s relationship with North Korea has now been thrust into the spotlight, potentially laying the groundwork for more meaningful resolutions than have been achieved in the past. Largely isolated from the rest of the international community, North Korea depends on China’s extensive economic cooperation for any semblance of stability. China has a strong incentive for its close ties with North Korea; the collapse of the North Korean economy or state would pose a massive security risk to China because of the long border the two nations share.

Consequently, China has been one of the biggest obstacles to an effective, coordinated deterrence regime. Even in this most recent case, the Security Council resolution had to be watered down because of opposition from China and South Korea (which also fears instability on its northern border).

Still, as China becomes a bigger player on the global stage, the United States has been expending a great deal of effort to make China feel (and act) as if it has a stake in the international system. A notable recent example was the United States supported International Monetary Fund reform package, which expanded the voting rights of developing countries, particularly China.

Due to a combination of its permanent seat on the Security Council and its unprecedented economic growth, China now wields more geopolitical influence than it ever has before. It is critical that China shows the international community that it can use that influence responsibly.


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