SEOUL, Dec. 2 (Yonhap) -- Asking the U.N. Security Council to punish North Korea for its deadly artillery strike on a South Korean island last week will put further pressure on China to rein in its belligerent neighbor, a U.S. expert said Thursday.
"Going to the Security Council ... puts (China) on the defensive. It forces them to defend North Korea," said Richard Bush, senior fellow and director for the Center for Northeast Asian Policy Studies at the Brookings Institution, in an interview with Yonhap News Agency. "That's not a comfortable position for China to be in. So, the more China has to defend North Korea, the more they may see the value of change."
Richard Bush, senior fellow and director of the Center for Northeast Asian Policy Studies at the Brookings Institution, speaks to Yonhap News Agency in Seoul on Dec. 2. (Yonhap)
As North Korea's last remaining ally and benefactor, China is seen as the only single country that can convince the communist regime to change course and stop its warlike behavior. The brutal Nov. 23 attack on the front-line island of Yeonpyeong in the Yellow Sea left four people dead, including two civilians, wounded 18 others, and destroyed scores of houses and forests.
The attack came just eight months after the sinking of a South Korean warship in the same area, which killed 46 sailors. A Seoul-led multinational investigation blamed a North Korean torpedo, while Pyongyang continues to deny any role in the incident.
South Korea referred the case to the U.N. Security Council, hoping for a clear denunciation of the North Korean regime, but with lukewarm responses from China and Russia -- two of the five veto-wielding permanent members of the council -- Seoul got back a vaguely worded presidential statement condemning the attack rather than the perpetrator.
This time, the South Korean government has been cautious to press the U.N. for action, wanting to avoid another disappointing decision by the council.
A foreign ministry official recently said that the ministry would "have to do some calculations of the cost and benefit" of a U.N. referral before making up its mind.
"If North Korea is prepared to interpret a relatively weak statement as a victory for them that may not be so good," Bush said, referring to Pyongyang's response to the statement after the ship sinking.
He stressed, however, that going to the Security Council is "part of the education of China."
"I think that if there is any value in these provocations, it is a way of educating China about the nature of North Korean policy today, and educating China that it is more and more of a liability for China," he said.
Responding to international pressure to pull its levers on North Korea and as a solution to escalating tension in the region, China on Sunday proposed convening an emergency meeting in early December among chief delegates to the six-party denuclearization talks aimed at dismantling Pyongyang's nuclear programs. The negotiating rounds, involving the two Koreas, host China, the U.S., Japan and Russia, have been stalled since December 2008.
South Korea's foreign ministry said the proposal "should be studied very carefully," while critics dismissed it as a mere effort to save face.
"I think that (South Korea), the United States and Japan were correct to say (that) what is needed here is not a meeting. What is needed is for North Korea to change its behavior," Bush said.
China's indecisive responses to North Korea's provocations have been interpreted as reluctance to put pressure on Pyongyang over fears that it may destabilize the already troubled nation and hurt China's own political and economic interests.
"The key link here is China's relationship with North Korea and how China views North Korea's effect on its interests," Bush said.
A U.N. referral of the latest North Korean provocation will go some way to expose how much of a liability Pyongyang has become to Beijing, although it may require time, he said.
"It will be a cumulative process, but it, I hope, will affect this key link."