In an editorial released today, the two leading newspapers of the Chinese Communist Party have accused the U.S. and South Korea of using the sinking of the Cheonan as a “convenient excuse” to “create turmoil in North Korea in the face of a pending political power transition” and warned of the risk of instability in the region.
The editorial is attributed to The Global Times but is simultaneously available in the People’s Daily. The two are among the key bellwethers of Chinese government opinion.
Dismissing the notion that ongoing U.S.-South Korea military exercises are an attempt to deter the North from future aggression, the editorial instead claims, “The controversial sinking of the South Korean battleship, in retrospect, is more like a convenient excuse for the U.S. to conduct a long-planned drill that envisions the occupation of the North, rather than a single reaction toward an emergency.”
This, according to the editorial, is something the U.S. has wanted to do “since the end of last year”, in an attempt to sow seeds of discord in North Korea in advance of the transition of power from Kim Jong Il to Kim Jong Eun.
However, it asserts in a comment that seemingly acquiesces to the hereditary succession, “A smooth transition of power in the North is vital for the stability of Northeast Asia.”
“China must also be wary of the US putting the entire Korean Peninsula under its influence,” it asserts.
If North Korea falls and the whole Peninsula enters the U.S.’ sphere of influence, it goes on later to say, “US control of the peninsula will pose a realistic threat to China and Russia.”
China must, it concludes, “try to play an active role in preserving the peace on the Korean Peninsula, as well as look after its own interests.”
On this position, a researcher with the Sejong Institute, Oh Gyeung Seob told The Daily NK today, “The Chinese authorities’ concern that the U.S.-South Korea joint military exercises come from the two countries’ strategic intention to bring about the fall of North Korea is too sensitive.”
“The unchanging stance of both countries is that there is no way to shift the North Korean regime through military threats. Therefore, that Chinese point of view went too far and is too pessimistic.”
Choi Chun Heum, a senior researcher with the Korea Institute for National Unification (KINU) added, “China knows well that the South Korea-U.S. military alliance can deter North Korean provocations. Therefore, the Chinese authorities have never before used the words ‘fall of the North’ when referring to the Team Spirit exercises.”
He went on, “Since the Chinese authorities don’t really think that the U.S.-South Korea exercises can cause the collapse of the North’s regime and they know very well that they are an annual defensive drill, the only purpose behind releasing those concerns may be that the Chinese administration needs to deal with negative public opinion toward North Korea’s old-fashioned succession, because China also officially acknowledges Kim Jong Eun’s succession.”
He concluded, “The Chinese authorities need to know that North Korea will misuse conflict in U.S.-China relations in order to maintain their dictatorship regime and the succession system, and that this situation will only cause a much more serious situation; for example after conducting another nuclear test, North Korea could use China as a shield.”