China is North Korea's strongest ally. That is why President Barack Obama urged Chinese President Hu Jintao on Monday to do more to stop the North from launching a long-range missile next month. No one is sure what the Chinese will do. John Garver, professor in the Sam Nunn School of International Affairs, explains why.
"China and the United States have agreed since the mid-1990s that preventing the spread of nuclear weapons is an important and shared interest and have worked to strengthen cooperation in that area as one area that can help stabilize the broader situation. North Korea, along with Iran, are high-ranking nuclear proliferation issues.
President Obama meets with President Hu Jintao of China
(Courtesy: The White House).
"Beijing and Washington differ, however, over the efficacy of sanctions in dealing with non-proliferation --- especially in especially sensitive areas bordering China like North Korea. Beijing fears that sanctions could destabilize the North Korean regime, possible leading to large scale flight of refugees from the North to Chinese territory. Even worse from Beijing's perspective, crisis in North Korea might open the door to a process of Korean unification over which China had little control, possibly resulting in a unified Korea aligned with the United States.
"Beijing doesn't like North Korean nuclear weapons, but that is a less bad situation than a united and possibly U.S.-aligned Korea. The "lesson of Vietnam" looms large in Chinese thinking. As long as the two Vietnamese states confronted each other from 1954 to 1975, Hanoi needed Chinese support. Once Hanoi ruled a united Vietnam, Vietnamese aspirations quickly came into conflict with Chinese interests."
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