Monday, October 09, 2006

China might need an omelette on its face

This week North Korea defied the whole world - including China - by testing a nuclear weapon. That leaves egg on China's face, but I fear it will take more eggs before China behaves like the responsible world member that it wishes to be treated as.

Like a teenager who demands to be treated like an adult but has not yet demonstrated that they have the maturity of an adult, China has long demanded a level of respect on the world stage that it has not yet earned. Like a teenager, it finds itself in a grown-up body economically (and militarily, frankly), but from North Korea to Taiwan to Tibet to a list too long of shady business partners, it has not yet demonstrated the maturity that such a position requires.

Every country must, of course, follow its national interests; even when those interests are opposed to the interests of other nations. The United States certainly does. However, true leader nations also recognize that their long-term interests often require doing things that are short-term undesirable. China has been unwilling to reign in North Korea because of fears of instability and refugees. But by propping up the North Koreans, they're actually creating a far worse long-term problem not only for China but for the whole community of nations.

This was their moment for China to stand up on the world stage and show that it knows how to do the right thing, even when it is difficult to do. They failed this test miserably. Pyongyang has embarassed Beijing, and, frankly, Beijing deserved it.

The right thing to do here is not a pleasant one. China needs to seriously curtail its support of North Korea. Given Pyongyang's policy of putting the military first, doing so will almost certainly cause even more hardship for the already suffering population of the North, but failure to do so only prolongs their existing suffering.

It's time for China to do the right thing. I hope they do, but I am not holding my breath, for the Chinese regime has shown time and again that it has no interest in the broader good, only its own.

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