China Open to Considering North Korea Sanctions

A North Korean soldier looks through binoculars. Credit: PETER PARKS/AFP/Getty Images. i i

A North Korean soldier looks through binoculars on the banks of the Yalu River in the North Korean town of Sinuiju, opposite the Chinese border city of Dandong on Tuesday. Peter Parks/AFP/Getty Images hide caption

itoggle caption Peter Parks/AFP/Getty Images
A North Korean soldier looks through binoculars. Credit: PETER PARKS/AFP/Getty Images.

A North Korean soldier looks through binoculars on the banks of the Yalu River in the North Korean town of Sinuiju, opposite the Chinese border city of Dandong on Tuesday.

Peter Parks/AFP/Getty Images

China says it supports "appropriate action" by the United Nations against neighboring North Korea in the wake of that country's apparent testing of a nuclear bomb. China also says it is encouraging North Korea to return to talks over its nuclear activities.

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SUSAN STAMBERG, host:

China is a pivotal player in the world's response to North Korea's nuclear program. Not only is China a permanent member of the U.N. Security Council, it's also North Korea's traditional ally and the country with the most influence over Pyongyang. Yesterday, the Chinese government described North Korea's action as brazen, and accused the North Koreans of flouting interrogation opinion. Today, China says it supports appropriate action by the Security Council.

NPR's Louisa Lim is on the line from Beijing.

Louisa, what security action is China talking about? Will the Chinese government go along with sanctions against North Korea?

LOUISA LIM: Well, at the moment, they won't go so far as to say that, but it does seem likely. I've just come back from a briefing at the Chinese Foreign Ministry, and it was interesting not so much for what they said but what they didn't say. Normally, at these briefings, they come out with a line that they would oppose sanctions against North Korea. Today, there was no mention of opposing sanctions at all. And in fact, the government spokesman said they would support appropriate action, and any action, which would benefit peace and stability on the North Korea peninsula.

Now, when you talk to analysts about what this actually means, translating this into real actions, they say it probably means that China would go along with limited-tailored symbolic sanctions, aimed at halting proliferation. But it would not go ahead with anything which sort of smacks of strangulation and that could lead to the collapse of the North Korean regime.

STAMBERG: Yes. Is there likely that we'll see some sort of a change in China's foreign policy towards the North? For a long time, it viewed the Koreans kind of as a little brother.

LIM: That's right. And we are likely to see some changes. Even the Foreign Ministry, which always tries to say as little as possible, said today that the nuclear test would have a negative impact on ties. Although, they said China still wants neighborly relations. But analysts are saying it's unavoidable that China will have to find a new way to deal with North Korea. After all, it's very angry and it's very embarrassed that the North Koreans have publicly ignored their warnings. As well, China had gained great diplomatic face from halting these six-party talks, aimed at disarming North Korea. Of course, these now seemed to have failed, although China is still saying that it would like all parties to return to the six-party talks.

And the question is whether China will now use the food and fuel aid to pressure North Korea. And it seems that all this talk about keeping peace and stability on the North Korean peninsula means that it's unlikely to do too much, because it's still very worried what the repercussions of a North Korean regime collapse would be for China itself. It's worried about seeing waves of North Korean refugees coming across the border. And it likes to have North Korea as a buffer state between it and South Korea.

STAMBERG: Talk a bit more about that border. It's a long border that China shares with North Korea. Any sign of any unusual activity there?

LIM: Well, we are hearing reports from people at the border that there have been some sort of exercises on the bridge separating the two countries, although these could just be very short routine exercises. And a pro-Beijing newspaper in Hong Kong is reporting that China cancelled leave for border troops. Apparently there's been no traffic across the border today.

STAMBERG: Meantime, what about people in the street? Are they as angry about all of this, as the Chinese government is?

LIM: Interestingly, not necessarily. There's actually a real division of opinions among ordinary people, and that's interesting in itself that people are no longer slavishly following the government line. I mean, some people you talk to say that they're actually quite pleased that North Korea has nuclear weapons, because they don't that there's any possibility that North Korea would use those weapons against China. And they think that it could be good for China to be allied with a nuclear neighbor.

There's also quite a strong anti-American sentiment in China. And people online are saying things like it's good that North Korea has nuclear weapons, because it would disturb the American strategy in Asia. So there is an interesting divergence of opinions.

STAMBERG: Thank you very much, NPR's Louisa Lim in Beijing.

LIM: Thank you.

STAMBERG: You're listening to MORNING EDITION from NPR News.

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