U.S. officials see China rethinking N. Korea stance

By Arshad Mohammed

ELMENDORF AIR FORCE BASE, Alaska (BestGrowthStock) – China is rethinking its relationship with North Korea and may signal greater sympathy for South Korea over the sinking of one of its warships when Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao visits Seoul this week, U.S. officials said on Wednesday.

China, North Korea’s last major ally, is frustrated with Pyongyang and may soon signal a willingness to discuss how the United Nations should respond to the March sinking of the Cheonan, which killed 46 sailors, according to the officials.

One noted that China has sought to avoid taking sides and has done little to try to address South Korean sensitivities over the incident, one of the deadliest between the Koreas since the end of the 1950-53 Korean War.

Beijing props up the North Korean government and its destitute economy almost single-handedly, but has refused to endorse an international investigation that last week concluded North Korea deliberately torpedoed the South Korean corvette.

South Korea, with U.S. support, has said it wants to take the issue to the U.N. Security Council. Beijing is all but certain to block new sanctions on its ally, but it might support a carefully worded condemnation of Pyongyang.

The North has said to cut all ties with South Korea and has threatened to close the last road link with the South if Seoul resumes propaganda broadcasts across the militarized border.

A U.S. official, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said the likely occasion for China to signal its shift would be Wen’s visit on Friday and Saturday.

“I think you will see them suddenly and carefully move closer to the South Korean position and I think you will see them begin a process of talking to the South Koreans about an appropriate international response,” the official said.

He suggested the U.N. Security Council may need to complete a fresh sanctions resolution against Iran over its nuclear program before seriously taking up the North Korean issue.

“PROFOUND FRUSTRATION”

“There is profound frustration with North Korean behavior and with the way in which it complicates China’s own security calculations,” said another official.

The United States has tried to deter the North by tightening Washington’s military cooperation with the South, where it has some 28,000 troops stationed.

Among the steps Washington and Seoul are contemplating are joint military exercises, measures to sharpen readiness among their forces and tighter intelligence cooperation.

“These are developments that I think will be persuasive to the Chinese that they need to do something about the behavior of their neighbor. It complicates their security environment and, over time, it affects their thinking,” the official said.

The remarks to reporters came as U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton flew home after two days of talks in Beijing.

One objective of the so-called U.S.-China Strategic and Economic Dialogue is to try to institutionalize consultations with China on everything from its macroeconomic policies and currency to regional security and climate change.

Tensions flared between Beijing and Washington in the first few months of 2010, when China denounced U.S. criticism of its Internet censorship, Washington’s arms sales to Taiwan, and Obama’s meeting with the Dalai Lama, Tibet’s exiled leader.

Relations have since improved, though China has yet to agree to resume high-level military-to-military consultations that the United States regards as vital.

During the talks in Beijing, one U.S. official said the representative of China’s People’s Liberation Army was unsparingly critical of the United States. “It was a list, almost like a catechism of our failings,” said the official.

However, he suggested Beijing may soon relent on military contacts, saying one sign of this might be a visit by U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates.

“I think you will see one of the takeaways over the course of the next couple of weeks (is) that suddenly (our) Chinese friends might have time for Secretary Gates’ visit,” he said.

Investing Research

(Editing by Chris Wilson)

U.S. officials see China rethinking N. Korea stance