The question of how China will respond to its sometime-ally’s attack was raised at this Wall Street Journal blog. China, it seems, has only bad choices.
China’s response to news of the North Korean firing of dozens of rounds of artillery at a South Korean island has been cautious so far, with a foreign ministry spokesman saying Tuesday that Beijing had “noticed the reports” and was “concerned about the issue.”
[. . .]
The last time North Korean aggression led to South Korean bloodshed—the sinking of a South Korean patrol ship, the Cheonan, in March, which an international investigation blamed on Pyongyang–China remained tongue-tied, failing to publicly express condolences for almost a month. That silence flustered, and ultimately frustrated, regional neighbors who look to China to keep North Korea from running too far off the rails.
North Korea’s military misadventures put China in a difficult position. Besides being Pyongyang’s only ally of consequence, Beijing has a vested interest in supporting the North Korean regime, the collapse of which could send millions of North Korean refugees flooding into China.
At the same time, China has increasingly pushed to be seen as the region’s dominant peace keeper and power broker—a role that requires it to calm nerves made jittery by North Korea’s occasional outbursts.
Those competing pressures are nowhere more apparent than in the currently stalled Six-Party Talks, originally initiated by China with the aim of dismantling North Korea’s nuclear weapons program. The desire to lure countries back to those talks motivates most of China’s diplomatic decision making in the region, says John Delury, assistant professor at Yonsei University’s Graduate School of International Studies.
“They’ve been pretty consistently pushing–in this very gentle Chinese way–to get everybody back to the table,” Mr. Delury tells China Real Time. “They’re implacable in that drive.”
[. . .]
[T]he Tuesday evening news broadcast of state-run flagship news channel CCTV-1–which led by citing official North Korean media as saying South Korea fired first–suggests leaders in Beijing may yet try to leverage uncertainty to justify reticence.
In the meantime, one reader discussing the attacks on the popular Voice of China bulletin board, wrote what we imagine at least a few of China’s leaders are thinking: “There’s nothing good in this fight for China — North Korea is insane.”