On a recent trip to Beijing, I was able to meet with senior Chinese officials and experts to discuss recent developments on the Korean Peninsulasince the Feb. 13, 2007six-party nuclear agreement.
What I learned surprised me.
As I expected, the Chinese are genuinely pleased the Bush administration has shifted its policy toward North Korea, dropping demands for complete and immediate disarmament and retreating from confrontation and the goal of regime change. From Beijing ’s standpoint, the February agreement averted a crisis on the Korean Peninsulaand established a framework for negotiating additional disarmament steps through the six-party talks. Beyond the nuclear issue, the Chinese support the establishment of a regional peace and stability mechanism for Northeast Asia built around the six-party talks.
Aside from these expected positive views, however, I learned China also has some reservations and concerns about recent events on the peninsula.
Before the February agreement, China was the central player in the six-party nuclear negotiations. Much to Beijing’s anger, Pyongyang went ahead with its nuclear tests in the face of Chinese protests, undercutting the perception that China could control North Korea’s behavior. Now that the United States and North Korea have developed a direct line of communication, and the United States and South Korea have patched up their relations, China is no longer at the center of the action. Although Beijing will continue to host the talks, China is feeling sidelined.