Korean Peninsula: How China complicates a peace deal
The two Koreas may soon finally “put their days of hostility and enmity behind them,” said The Hankyoreh (South Korea) in an editorial. At last week’s summit in Panmunjeom—a village inside the Demilitarized Zone that separates North and South—North Korean dictator Kim Jong Un and South Korean President Moon Jae-in pledged to work toward the “complete denuclearization” of the Korean Peninsula and to turn the 1953 armistice that halted the Korean War into a permanent peace treaty. This breakthrough is the work of Moon, who has consistently spoken the language of peace, “even while North Korea and the U.S. were trading barbs about ‘fire and fury.’” Pyongyang has broken promises many times in the past, and Seoul must not be naïve. But every Korean has reason to celebrate this historic step.
The meeting was “political theater of a high order,” said Frank Ching in The Business Times (Singapore). With the world watching, Kim strode across the cement blocks that mark the two countries’ border, becoming the first North Korean leader to set foot in the South since 1953. Holding hands, Moon and Kim then skipped back and forth across the border “like schoolchildren playing hopscotch.” U.S. President Donald Trump will play America’s part when he meets with Kim in the coming weeks. But the other key actor, China, has yet to find its role. Both Koreas currently have tense relations with Beijing—Pyongyang because its main ally has supported the United Nations’ sanctions against it and Seoul because China hit it with sanctions after the U.S. deployed a missile defense system on South Korean territory. Yet as a party to the 1953 armistice, Beijing must be included in any peace deal. China’s “fear of being marginalized may well intensify.”
Beijing doesn’t know whether to “be unhappy or not” at the prospect of peace, said the Hong Kong Economic Journal (China). North Korea is China’s “buffer shield” against the U.S.-allied South. If peace means that the U.S. ends up withdrawing its 28,000 military personnel from South Korea, Beijing can live with that. But if Pyongyang achieves normalized relations with the U.S. while American troops and missile defenses remain in South Korea, “China will probably feel prickles down its back.”
Already, China is trying to intimidate us, said The Korea Herald (South Korea). As Koreans celebrated the prospect of peace on the peninsula, China “escalated its violations” of South Korean airspace. A day after Kim and Moon’s historic meeting, Beijing flew a military surveillance craft into our air defense identification zone without warning—the third time it has done so in as many months. China “wants to make its hegemonic presence felt regarding the matter of denuclearizing the North.” And that’s exactly why our alliance with the U.S. remains so critical, even if we secure the best possible peace deal. At that point, China may well become “as threatening to the South as North Korea’s nuclear weapons” ever were.