Acid Test

Posted by Lex, on May 24, 2010

 

A rising China is inevitable. What that will mean to the world is still open to debate. The sinking of the South Korean corvette Cheonan by the odious Kim Chong Il regime has given China the opportunity to reassure its neighbors that it intends to be a stabilizing force in a critical region, and a reliable partner in world affairs.

So far, the signs are mixed:

The sinking and its aftermath have reignited much the same debate that took place last year, after North Korea test-fired a long-range missile in April and conducted an underground nuclear test less than two months later. After balking at first, China eventually agreed to a unanimous Security Council resolution condemning the nuclear test and tightening existing sanctions.

The United States, Japan and South Korea are uniting behind a similarly strong response this time. South Korea is expected to ask the Security Council on Monday to condemn the sinking of the 1,200-ton warship, which it says caused one of the largest losses of military personnel since the end of the Korean War. Mrs. Clinton is pushing Beijing to back the effort.

“The North Koreans will be more easily dissuaded from further attacks like this if they don’t get cover from China, “ said Michael J. Green, an Asia specialist with the Center for International Studies in Washington. “So it’s absolutely critical to Korea and the United States that China send that signal.”

But in discussions that began Sunday, China was resisting, and it has been skeptical of the claim that the North was responsible for sinking the ship. Scholars say such misgivings are typical when China is asked to side against North Korea.

Paradoxically, this incoherence is a sign of Chinese weakness, driven from deep seated fears: Fear that it has too little leverage over a rogue state with no other friends. Fear that a thoroughly isolated Kim regime may lash out. Fear that the North Korean government might buckle under the pressure and become united with a US-allied, democratic south, or send waves of refugees across the Yalu and into China.

These are all, frankly, valid concerns. But if China cannot do the right thing in such an unequivocally stark example as the unprovoked murder of a trading partner’s servicemen, the region and the world more generally will have the right to form its own fears too.

What kind of China is rising?

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