Cheonan case: UN vague as usual

By Zhang Liangui
0 CommentsPrint E-mail China Daily, July 14, 2010
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On July 9, the Security Council issued a statement by its chairman on the Cheonan affair. The statement came more than a month after the Republic of Korea (ROK) submitted the case to the United Nations accusing the People's Democratic Republic of Korea (DPRK) of sinking its warship on March 26.

But the statement, to all intent and purpose, is ambiguous. It includes the opinions of related parties and condemns the "trouble-maker" but avoids blaming a country or organization for the sinking of the Cheonan. It stresses the importance of preserving peace on the Korean Peninsula, and in East Asia as a whole, but offers no possible solution if any of the parties were to disturb the peace. Thus it would be reasonable to conclude that the UN statement lacks firmness and is incapable of resolving the affair.

In some sense, the ineffectiveness of the statement was expected. Each of the 15 members of the Security Council, especially the five permanent ones, has its own interest and claim, and conflicts of interests and even rivalry among the different parties are not rare.

Besides, the Cheonan accident is more of a political issue than judicial question. And the international community has always lacked authoritative jurisdiction, making it difficult to resolve such issues.

For instance, during the past several decades, many events have taken place on the Korean Peninsula and none of them has been settled to the satisfaction of all the parties involved. Hence, we cannot rely too much upon the international community, for only the naive would mix international politics with civil judiciary.

But the actions of several parties during the one month when the UN Security Council was deliberating the Cheonan affair deserve our special attention.

First, some of the parties told the Security Council that if it didn't take a tough stand on the Cheonan issue they would use force to "settle" it. The proposed US-ROK military exercise could be cited as an example of such use of force.

On June 5, a day after the ROK submitted the Cheonan case to the Security Council, the USS George Washington, a nuclear-powered super-carrier, sailed with a fleet to the ROK for the joint military drill. Although the drill was postponed until after the Security Council decision to make the threat not so naked, it made America's intentions clear.

The DPRK reacted fiercely, too. The Korean Central News Agency, the DPRK's official news agency, has used words such as "total war" and "nuclear war" in its broadcasts. The DPRK ambassador to the UN said the country's troops would respond strongly to any instigation. Such naked threats are not common in the history of the Security Council.

Second, group politics was more on display in the Security Council. Essentially, the Cheonan accident is a matter for the two opposing parties on the Korean Peninsula to settle. Neither the US nor China has the right or responsibility to judge the affair. But evidently external forces are too deeply involved in it.

Conspiracy theorists made many American political leaders believe the DPRK poses new risks and must be stopped before more Cheonan-like incidents take place. This prompted the US to side with the ROK from the beginning. In China, the US-ROK military exercise was interpreted as a threat. As a result, the US and China were found negotiating an affair that was not theirs.

Last but not the least, the Korean Peninsula nuclear issue, which is the key to peace and stability in the region, was ignored. In fact, heightened tensions on the peninsula, and the whole of East Asia, should be attributed to the failure of the denuclearization process.

The key to a long-term solution to the problem is a nuclear weapons-free Korean Peninsula. But while discussing the matter, the Security Council ignored the nuclear question. Merely calling for peace and stability is not enough to solve the problems on the peninsula.

The Security Council chairman's statement has put a not-so-perfect end to the Cheonan affair. All the parties involved will adopt measures that suit their interests.

The US-ROK military exercise will continue and end without making too much noise, while the ROK may postpone its psychological warfare against the DPRK. China will maintain good relations with its neighbors, and the DPRK would seek more talks to protect its interests. And the Cheonan affair may fade from our memory with the passage of time. But despite all this, its impact would be felt strongly later on three fronts.

First, East Asia will see the deepening of group politics. The Cheonan affair has already dealt a blow to Sino-ROK relations and could stimulate mutual aversion among civilians. The ROK and Japan both would rely more on the US and thus boost the triangular alliance. As a measure of defense, the DPRK would play the China or Russia card, and the idea of two opposing triangles may gain ground. All these would hinder the efforts to forge an East Asian community.

Second, arms race may reemerge in the region. The ROK has already raised its military budget, while Japan is ready to rearm itself. Russia is reinforcing its military, too. And the US is likely to strengthen its military presence in the region, while the DPRK could accelerate its nuclear and missile programs.

Third, efforts to keep the Korean Peninsula free of nuclear weapons will meet more difficulties. Though the DPRK considers the Security Council chairman's statement a victory and has expressed willingness to support denuclearization through the Six-Party Talks, the hopes of denuclearization have dimmed, because the parties now share a more complex relationship, marked by conflicts of interests.

Hence, it would be more difficult to maintain peace and stability on the Korean Peninsula.

The author is a professor of international strategy research center at the Central Party School of the CPC.

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