China and North Korea: China Card Fails

Faced with the possibility of a North Korean nuclear test, Washington reached for the China card to stop such a disastrous development. The fact that the test went ahead demonstrates that the White House overestimated Beijing’s foreign policy prowess.

The World Today Published 1 November 2006 Updated 12 November 2020 5 minute READ

Nicholas Khoo

Visiting Professor, Foreign Affairs College, Beijing

When times are bad, the United States can always count on North Korea to make the situation worse. To the now familiar problems associated with American intervention in the Middle East; Iran’s push to acquire nuclear weapons; the upsurge of self-styled Jihad inspired terror activity in Europe, south and southeast Asia; Washington can now add the reality of a North Korean state with a demonstrated nuclear capability.

The question for the US is the same one President Gorge Bush’s administration - and President Bill Clinton’s - have struggled with for years: can diplomacy work with North Korea? As the crisis over the nuclear weapons programme escalated, the Bush administration continued to rely on Chinese diplomacy to put pressure on Pyongyang. This made sense, since the Chinese clearly stated their preference for a non-nuclear Korean peninsula. The problem for the US has, and continues to be, that the Chinese have conflicting attitudes towards the issue.

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