วันอาทิตย์ที่ 30 พฤษภาคม พ.ศ. 2553
Who can check North Korea's aggression?
It has been 10 days since the release of a report by the international Joint Civilian-Military Investigation Group, assembled by the South Korean Ministry of Defence, which concluded that North Korea was behind the sinking of a South Korean ship, the Cheonan, in disputed waters on March 26. The investigative team, made up of 25 South Korean experts along with foreign experts from the United States, Australia, the United Kingdom and Sweden, concluded that the ship sank as a result of its being hit by a torpedo which had markings ''consistent with the marking of a previously obtained North Korean torpedo''.
While such an act could clearly be labelled an act of war, South Korea has fortunately avoided doing anything rash and has looked to the international community for help in responding to this latest belligerence from the North.
While most of the world realises that this latest aggression from the regional bully, which left 46 sailors dead, cannot go unpunished, finding the right response is proving very difficult because the North Korean leader, Kim Jong-il, is seen as such a loose cannon, and one armed with nuclear weapons.
One thing is clear. Any diplomatic response is meaningless without the support of China, and to a lesser extent Russia. Both nations have said they are waiting to see the evidence reviewed by the international investigative committee before they make a decision on how to proceed.
That's fair enough, but it seems quite unlikely that the findings of the committee will be disputed in the end. It's a safe bet that all of the nations represented on the committee, and particularly South Korea and the US, would have much preferred to find that the sinking had been an accident.
South Korea is pushing for the United Nations Security Council to censure the North, and on Friday Chinese Prime Minister Wen Jiabao, in a meeting with South Korean President Lee Myung-bak, indicated that China would likely vote for censure, or at least abstain in a vote.
Mr Wen promised on Friday that Beijing will not protect ''anyone'' once it had concluded who was responsible for the sinking of the ship.
That's encouraging, but in fact China should take a much more pro-active stance than merely going along with a censure motion.
However, the reasons for China's reluctance to get tough with North Korea are complicated. There is the fact that North Korea is a fellow communist state and long-time ally, and also that it provides China a buffer with South Korea.
But there is little doubt that the Chinese are also getting fed up with the aggressive antics of Mr Kim, which destabilise the whole region and could theoretically force China into a confrontation with the US, which is sworn to defend the South.
In the six-party negotiations which included China, in 2005 North Korea agreed to dismantle its nuclear programme in exchange for foreign aid. But for reasons that are still not clear Mr Kim tore up the agreement and tested a nuclear weapon in October 2006. One week later China agreed for the first time to support the UN against North Korea. The relationship between the two countries has been somewhat strained ever since.
On the surface it would seem that China should have the power to easily rein in North Korea. About 90% of the country's energy imports, 80% of its consumer goods and 45% of its food items come from China.
But despite the obvious dependency of the North on China's continued support, Beijing's reluctance to get tough with Pyongyang may in large part mirror a similar reluctance felt by the rest of the world. The unpredictability and apparent disregard for the wellbeing of his own people and that of the people of other nations make Mr Kim a very dangerous man.
It has been suggested that this has been overstated and that in fact Mr Kim l is using incidents such as the nuclear test and the sinking of the Cheonan to set up the succession of his youngest son, Kim Jong-Un, to be the next leader of North Korea, possibly as early as 2012. Under this scenario the younger Kim would take responsibility for these acts of aggression to somehow ''legitimise'' his leadership. If true, this would sadly seem to lock the son into the same pattern of belligerence as the father. Nevertheless, a succession of power in the North is probably the best hope for a real thaw in tensions on the Korean peninsula. Meanwhile, China should use all the influence it has to keep Pyongyang in check.