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United States Presses China on N. Korea Sanctions

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United States Presses China on N. Korea Sanctions


United States Presses China on N. Korea Sanctions

United States Presses China on N. Korea Sanctions

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  • <iframe src="" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
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The United States is pressing China to enforce U.N. sanctions against North Korea for its recent nuclear test, but China has resisted enforcing some of those new rules. Kenneth Lieberthal, a professor of political science at the University of Michigan, talks with Madeleine Brand about China's relationship with North Korea.


From the studios of NPR West, this is DAY TO DAY. I'm Madeleine Brand.


I'm Alex Chadwick.

Coming up: Shifting politics in conservative Colorado.

BRAND: First, though, North Korea is calling United Nations sanctions against it a declaration of war. The U.N. imposed sanctions over the weekend were in response to North Korea's recent nuclear weapons test.

CHADWICK: Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice travels to Asia today. She is trying to get support there for the U.N. action.

China is critical to that effort. It is North Korea's largest trading partner, and it has resisted so far the idea of economic sanctions.

BRAND: Joining us to talk about China's response to the crisis is Kenneth Lieberthal. He served as senior director for Asia on the National Security Council in the Clinton administration. He is now a political science professor at the University of Michigan.

And Professor Lieberthal, welcome to the program.

Professor KENNETH LIEBERTHAL (Political Science, University of Michigan; Former Senior Director for Asia, National Security Council): Well, thank you very much.

BRAND: How much does North Korea rely on China?

Prof. LIEBERTHAL: It relies on China a lot for its energy and food supplies. So if China were to cut off all exports to North Korea, the North Korean economy would collapse probably within a month or two.

BRAND: And China's not about to do that, though.

Prof. LIEBERTHAL: No, it isn't, because China does not want to see a North Korean collapse. They really are afraid of what would happen after the regime fell. This is a nuclear state. It's a heavily armed state. It's got a lot of desperately poor people in it. China sees no upside to a North Korean collapse.

BRAND: One aspect of the U.N. sanctions is for China to inspect cargo, North Korean cargo. And initially, China resisted that, saying inspections and seizures would be considered an act of war.

Given the statement today from North Korea, were they right? Was China right?

Prof. LIEBERTHAL: Well, I think that the Chinese are now figuring out themselves how rigorous the inspection regime they want to set up, what the criteria will be for letting through various kinds of cargo, how much risk they're willing to run in terms of incidents on the border or at sea.

And, of course, they're going to be hosting Secretary Rice in Beijing this coming week, so they're preparing for that conversation. And I think it's going to be a matter of probably weeks or maybe even more than month before we're really sure that we know what the Chinese implementation of the resolution will be. It will not be zero. The question is whether it is on the high end or whether it's a fairly loose interpretation.

Let me say, by the way, we also have to look at what North Korea does, that there's a possibility North Korea will have another nuclear test within a matter of weeks. And if it does, I think that will drive the Chinese farther up their own ladder in terms of imposing more rigorous inspections and stopping the flow of more materials to and from North Korea.

BRAND: Well, aside from inspections and interdiction, what more could or should China be doing?

Prof. LIEBERTHAL: Well, the Chinese until now have sought to influence Kim Jong Il, saying essentially we can over time - if we give this man some face and some resources and some encouragement - we can win him over so that he eventually figures his best future is in following a kind of Chinese path to economic and political change.

I think now the Chinese have concluded that that policy is no longer viable. Kim Jong Il not only tested a nuclear weapon, but he did so in the midst of the most important single high-level Chinese political meeting of the entire year. And he knew that meeting would be occurring the day that he tested. So this was not only against the entire international community, but it was especially in your face to the Chinese leadership.

So my feeling is that the Chinese leadership are now sitting back and saying, how do we contain this guy? And possibly even how do we encourage some sort of shift to a different leadership in North Korea?

But what are the risks involved? And the Chinese generally are risk-averse. So I think there's now a very vigorous debate going on within Beijing, and it's a debate that's going to take weeks and conceivably even months before they figure out exactly what they want to do.

BRAND: Kenneth Lieberthal is a China expert. He teaches political science at the University of Michigan.

Kenneth Lieberthal, thank you very much for joining us.

Prof. LIEBERTHAL: My pleasure.

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