Intense international attention is being given to WikiLeaked remarks, by the South Korean Vice Foreign Minister to the U.S. Ambassador in Seoul, that China's support for the DPRK is declining. Apparently Beijing does not wish to antagonise the U.S. and other trading partners by supporting a nuclear-armed state that it no longer sees as a buffer between it and its ideological enemies, and furthermore does not relish the idea of receiving North Korean refugees if the DPRK implodes. The Minister even added that China would not oppose Korean reunification. The comments are all the more relevant in view of the recent exchange of North-South shellfire in the Yellow Sea. The revelations bring into question the received wisdom that China protects North Korea, the Democratic People's Republic of Korea, against a hostile U.S.-backed South Korea. China itself has called for an urgent meeting of the six countries that used to participate in the now-stalled talks on denuclearising the Korean peninsula.
The reactions to the Chinese call, however, show very different forces at work. Japan's Foreign Minister has rejected it, saying that North Korea has “run amok.” This matches the anti-Northern attitude taken by South Korea since President Lee Myung-bak took office in February 2008. Seoul, for its part, says talks cannot resume until Pyongyang admits that it sank the Southern corvette Cheonan in March. Secondly, Mr. Lee stopped aid to the North as soon as he became President, ending the ‘Sunshine Policy' initiated by President Kim Dae-jung and continued by President Roh Moo-hyun. Thirdly, the marine border in the Yellow Sea, the Northern Limit Line, was unilaterally drawn by the United Nations in 1953. Running north of five islands near the Northern coast, it gives the South bases for spying on the North. It also enables South Korea and Japan to fish in the area, threatening the DPRK's fishing-based export income. A fresh provocation is the U.S. despatch of its aircraft carrier George Washington for U.S.-South Korean war-games in the Yellow Sea. As happens often at such times, influential sections of the international media are headlining the shellfire and the leaked cables while downplaying the fact that Seoul's forces opened fire, apparently towards the sea, and ignore the fact that South Korean Ministers do not make policy for China. The picture that emerges is of an orchestrated attempt by Washington and its allies to sever the Sino-North Korean link — an outcome that sounds very much like wishful thinking in light of the overall evidence.