Sliding off the Fence

Slowly, collossal China has shifted its weight and taken somewhat of a stand on the two rogue nation vs. superpower crisis currently holding the world’s attention. China’s stance, inevitably, has placed it in opposition to the superpower – but not exactly pro-rogue.

China has backed France and Germany (and Russia, to a certain extent) in calling for an extension of the inspections and a strict adherence to – gasp – the law, as stated in the UN Charter, Resolution 1441 (however vague, a smoking gun is still needed for those "serious consequences" to come into being) and, ironically, the US Constitution itself.

France and Germany have shown a little backbone, which has earned them boos and hisses from the lackies of the world – those nations dependent on handouts and favors from on high. These two pillars of the EU have done the unspeakable and supported a Third World nation instead of a "traditional ally" – for China, a traditional ally of the broke and ex-communist, the reaction in the West has been cautious for two important reasons.

One, China’s good will is supposedly still needed to defuse the North Korean crisis. Two, a harsh reaction may push China into voting, instead of merely abstaining as usual. And of course, as economic golden child of the future, China can now get away with opposing "bad policy" as the People’s Daily put Bush’s idea to ignore Resolution 1441 and start dropping bombs.

Bad policy and bad planning in the US Administration aside, China has an interest in a peaceful resolution to both crises. Oil to the west and trade to the east are both threatened by the spectre of war. Yet China may have played its cards at precisely the right moment concerning Iraq: NATO and the EU are both unable to agree on a course of action (inspections or war) and France and Germany’s defection has kept America preoccupied. China then slides off of the fence under cover of the infighting and the open "mutiny" by the two European powers.

The threat of a China veto and the need for China’s assistance with North Korea alone will not be enough. If war is to be averted, a coalition, led by Germany and France and supported by China (and perhaps Russia), combined with domestic and international antiwar demonstrations, could provide a strong enough deterrent to Bush’s Administration for unilateral action.

China’s words on the North Korean situation have not indicated any action or actual stance, but in a meeting Thursday with South Korea’s envoy Lee Hae-chan, Vice Premier Qian Qichen declared that the PRC and the ROK are of one voice concerning the crisis. This is what Qian says every time he meets an envoy from somewhere. The difference is that the ROK’s policy envisions Sunshine on the Peninsula and a strengthening of various types of contact between the two Koreas.

Kim Dae Jung’s policy may have been founded on a dream of eventual reunification. The people of the ROK increasingly resent and blame the US for the current crisis and the government of incoming President Roh Moo-hyun has stressed the importance of cross-border reconciliation. The US may not be anti-reunification, but peace and stability on the peninsula negates the need for 100,000+ American troops in Korea, Japan, Okinawa, the Philippines etc.

The US and IAEA’s move to place the issue before the Security Council may lead to sanctions (and possibly war) and skips over the talks that could have taken place at a regional level. Although the US may see this as a step away from unilateral action, the world sees the Security Council and the UN as powerless before the US.

How can the US expect the world to think anything else after a vaguely worded Resolution 1441 was railroaded through, Guernica was covered up and France and Germany’s stance was met with American-led scorn?

Before September 11, when China was the main competitor, dominance of the Asia-Pacific was the bone both nations (the US and the PRC) were supposedly fighting over. Bush’s incautious words and poor preparation for a serious response to those words has placed the US in the situation of having to dominate through intimidation, force and fear – exactly what China was accused of planning for the East Asian nations.

China, by echoing the sentiments of the Korean people and the new ROK government but actually doing little as possible, assumes the role of an interested yet respectful proponent of peace. Again, under cover of the ROK’s policy, China is able to slide off of the fence and oppose the superpower while never endorsing the rogue.

China’s leadership seems to have more vision than the Bush Administration, which can’t figure out what will happen after the bombs stop falling and the Taliban is routed. The US was so quick to accept what was thought to be China’s hand in friendship after the 9/11 tragedy, when in fact, it was politically necessary to do so for China. The US then chased ghosts and demons and possible ties between them while China remained focused on what truly was in the best interest of China.

The US can use China’s move off of the fence to slip out of war and relegate the duties to the UN for a few months. This will give everybody time to sit down and come to an agreement in the EU and NATO and, if Bush still wants war, the Senators can have some more time to dream up a post-war Iraq that is more than just a dream.

But of course, America’s face is far too large, and the Administration’s politics too blunt to see such an opportunity as anything more than a cop-out and a sign of weakness.

Read more by Sascha Matuszak