N. Korea: China’s child
We’ve been delivering the black gold, but the Communist extortionist has been secretly building new nuclear facilities. Confronted by the Bush administration with incontrovertible evidence, North Korea shamelessly admitted its duplicity and demanded a new round of appeasement.
Burned once, the United States refused. Instead, we turned to the rogue nation’s neighbors – South Korea, Japan, Russia and, most important, China – to pressure Pyongyang to stop its buildup of nukes and shipments of missiles.
But the North Korean dictator refuses to deal with his neighbors. “There is no need for any third party to meddle in the nuclear issue on the peninsula,” said the government-controlled newspaper. The North’s defense minister added a promise of “merciless punishment” to the paper’s warning of “uncontrollable catastrophe” unless the United States, and only the United States, accedes to the latest blackmail demands.
What of the neighbors most directly threatened by the nuclear buildup? Our Asian friends are quite content to let the United States “engage” the threat alone. Unilateral U.S. appeasement suddenly looks good to them; let the sunshine in.
A majority of South Korea’s voters, who owe their freedom over the past half-century to the U.S. military, are angry at the continued presence of 37,000 American troops on their soil. Last week, they elected a leader (Roh, pronounced No) who wants a repeat of Clinton’s fruitless 1994 cave-in.
Japan is wringing its hands. Russia’s Putin sees no problem with the spread of weapons of mass destruction by totalitarian regimes in Iran, Iraq or Korea. And China? Its foreign ministry merely shrugs: “We hope the relevant sides” (not including China, of course) “reach a resolution to the issue through dialogue” – as if to say, “we don’t have a running dog in that fight.”
If our strategic goal is to stop North Korea from becoming the Asian arsenal of terror, here is what we should do:
First, begin withdrawing our troops from South Korea.
Because the U.S. is not an imperialist power, it does not belong where a democratic nation decides America is unwanted. Moreover, our ground forces have never been there to resist an invasion by an army well over 1 million, but as a tripwire to make certain American air and sea power would be used immediately to help the South’s army resist aggression.
Few realize that the deterrent of the past has now been reversed. After a half-century, we no longer need a tripwire of troops to force our decision to defend Seoul from ground attack; our primary concern is to defend our homeland from nuclear missiles. We would have far greater freedom of action to take out a dangerous nuclear facility in North Korea if our nearby ground troops were not hostage to massive counterattack across the old DMZ. This denial of a local American target would not be lost even on the irrational tyrants in Pyongyang. Next, make clear to China that we hold it responsible for restraining its Communist partner in Korea.
North Korea exists as a totalitarian state now threatening world peace only because China’s army saved it from defeat by U.S. forces under a U.N. flag in the 1950s. Ever since, China has been the dark regime’s main supporter. Today’s rogue state of North Korea is China’s child; Beijing cannot feign irrelevance.
The Bush administration has in the past year embraced China, overlooking its brutal Xinjiang crackdown, tolerating its espionage, ignoring its military buildup, smoothing its way to world trade, gobbling up its exports. But it’s been a one-way street.
The North Korean blackmail presents Hu Jintao, new leader of 1.3 billion Chinese, with his first global test. So far, by pretending he has no responsibility for the Communist partner on his border – whose missiles will soon be able to take out Beijing as well as Tokyo – Hu is failing.
The United States and its allies will stop the danger in Baghdad. An onrushing generation will wrest power from the danger in Tehran. But Bush must make plain that if China wants to join the war on terror, it must rein in the danger on its doorstep.
William Safire is a columnist with The New York Times.