The Candidates and The World

Transition 2012

A guide to foreign policy and the 2012 U.S. presidential transition.

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China Update: Walking a Thin Line on North Korea

by Newsteam Staff
April 23, 2012

A soldier stands guard in front of the Unha-3 at the North Korea's West Sea Satellite Launch Site April 8, 2012 (Bobby Yip/Courtesy Reuters). A soldier stands guard in front of the Unha-3 at the North Korea's West Sea Satellite Launch Site April 8, 2012 (Bobby Yip/Courtesy Reuters).


In a U.S. presidential campaign that has already focused on trade and economic conflict with China, Washington and Beijing could also soon be in conflict on China’s ties to North Korea and provide more fodder on the campaign trail.

North Korea’s satellite-launch, considered a thinly veiled missile test, may have failed, but there is “growing concern” at the Pentagon over an apparent mobile intercontinental ballistic missile (ABC) launcher that may have been supplied by China, Defense Secretary Leon Panetta told Congress last week. The United Nations bans such technologies (WashPost) from being provided to the rogue nuclear state, something China has denied doing. Still U.S. officials are raising the issue.

China’s top diplomat Monday reaffirmed North Korea ties and praised the country’s leader despite it’s recent controversial actions. President Barack Obama has repeatedly appealed to China for help convincing Pyongyang to curtail its nuclear ambitions. Though China joined in on a UN Security Council resolution condemning North Korea for its 13 April rocket launch, Beijing remains North Korea’s strongest ally.

Obama has been criticized by some analysts and GOP frontrunner Mitt Romney for his attempts to engage North Korea’s new regime on its nuclear program but the country is proving to be a tough issue for any of the candidates to campaign on. U.S.-China relations also are expected to be a challenge for whomever wins the White House in November, as voters and candidates focus on China’s growing economy and influence, which is increasingly seen as competition for the United States.

For more on the candidates’ stances, check out CFR’s Issue Tracker on The Candidates on U.S. Policy toward China and North Korea.

Suggested Other Reading:

Patrick M. Cronin at the Center for a New American Security, poses “ten big questions” for Barack Obama and Mitt Romney on Asia at CNN, noting that other countries in the region have long-term plans that “are driven mostly by a rising China and uncertainty about America’s long-term presence,” and increasing capacity for building local and coastal defenses. “Obama and Romney administration policies for the Asia-Pacific would be apt to overlap more than they would differ. But when it comes to making hard choices and implementing policies, leaders matter,” he said.

A recent CFR report looks at conflict in the South China Sea, including between the United States and China over the right of U.S. military vessels to operate in China’s two-hundred-mile exclusive economic zone.

In The Diplomat, Allen Carlson argues the Western misunderstanding that there is no diversity of opinion within China’s political establishment on nationalism and economic competition contributes to the unfairly bleak outlook on U.S-China relations. “Assuming that any single worldview is dominant only exacerbates American worries about China’s rise. It even could exaggerate a spiral of mistrust and produce greater discord between China and the world,” Carlson writes. “Instead, recognizing these internal differences and forming American policy accordingly, could offer a better foundation for our approach to Beijing.”

In an editorial, Bloomberg says veto power on the U.N. Security Council has become “an anachronism” and the United States should lead the call for its demise and the “expansion of the council’s permanent membership to Japan, Germany, India and Brazil” before China can continue to use the veto to “water down any sanctions or condemnation” against North Korea or other autocratic regimes “to the point of irrelevance.”

— Gayle S. Putrich, Contributing Editor

1 Comment

  • Posted by District

    There’s a reason you’re soepuspd to be at least 18 to vote. The hope is well, MY hope is, that by the time you’ve reached that age, you’re able to understand longer, more complex, nuanced sentences. Does it not BOTHER you that Republicans have won the last couple of elections by speaking down to people and appealing to their basest instincts?