The World from Berlin: 'China Alone Can Pressure North Korea'

South Korean protesters burn an effigy of North Korean leader Kim Jong Un during a protest on Wednesday. Zoom
AP

South Korean protesters burn an effigy of North Korean leader Kim Jong Un during a protest on Wednesday.

North Korea's nuclear test has been widely condemned by international leaders, who are calling for tough action against the country. But German commentators say past strategies have failed and it's time for China to step up to the challenge.

North Korea's dictator Kim Jong Un signaled his willingness to develop the country's military capabilities on Tuesday with the explosion of a nuclear device. It was the third time that the country has conducted nuclear tests, and the first for the country's young leader.

The international communinity immediately voiced outrage over North Korea's provocative show of force and vowed action. In a statement issued Tuesday, United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon called the tests "deplorable," saying that they are "a clear and grave violation of the relevant Security Council resolutions."

After an emergency closed-door session the council issued a non-binding statement approved by all 15 member states condemning the tests. "In line with this commitment and the gravity of this violation, the members of the UN Security Council will begin work immediately on appropriate measures in a Security Council resolution," Kim Sung-hwan, Foreign Minister of the Republic of Korea, which holds the rotating presidency of the council for February, told reporters Tuesday.

As the UN decides on new measures, the United States, Germany and other nations are calling for more sanctions against North Korea. China, however, has previously weakened sanctions against its neighbor because the countries are important strategic partners. Though China has also condemned North Korea's latest tests, it hasn't signaled a change in policy.

But on Wednesday, German commentators say that sanctions and other existing measures are not doing much to deter North Korea from its nuclear ambitions, and suggest taking a different approach.

The center-left Süddeutsche Zeitung writes:

"The regime in North Korea would gladly be described as unpredictable. That's not true, at least not any more. The country has actually become rather predictable in its provocations, which above all serve one goal: to demonstrate the power of the ruling Kim clan to the world. North Korea's regime does not act unpredictably. It acts irresponsibly."

"As predictable as this nuclear test was, the reaction was also to be expected. Governments around the world are indignant, including the country's friends in Beijing. The US is demanding a sharpening of existing sanctions in the UN Security Council, which further condemned North Korea in a new resolution. After some hesitation China also approved it. Fundamentally the response to the latest nuclear test was not different from the second one. In reality the test has changed little regarding the region's status quo and geo-strategy with regards to the US."

"Still the tests are highly dangerous. They show that the young Kim is prepared to take big risks…. And the nuclear program has another dark side of proliferation because North Korea is a weapon's exporter…. What would prevent a player such as the dictator in Pyongyang from selling knowledge and even material to Iran or other nations?"

"In reality there is no satisfactory answer to this question. The only ones with a chance of success of finding an answer are the Chinese."

"Meanwhile, Chinese calculations appear to be shifting. A government newspaper in Beijing spoke of the 'high price' that North Korea will pay in the case of nuclear tests. One does not know how the government in Pyongyang will actually react to pressure from Beijing. But now is the time to try it out. The Chinese must take responsibility for its irresponsible neighbor. And they must do it now."

The conservative Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung writes:

"North Korean policy adheres to its very own logic. Whereas most countries these days do their best to avoid escalating conflicts, Pyongyang does exactly the opposite. It tries to benefit by fanning the flames of dispute. By doing so, the country sets boundaries that cannot be shifted by way of negotiation. And because North Korea is excellent at appraising its negotiating partners -- such as during the six-party talks on its nuclear weapons program -- it believes itself to be rather safe. An attack from the US, for example, is a virtual impossibility, making a provocation of Washington hazard-free."

"No matter how the international community ultimately reacts to the nuclear test, North Korea has already achieved one of its goals: It is now at the very top of the international agenda. Were it to abandon its nuclear program, it would lose importance. And the country's leadership would lose prestige among the North Korean populace. For this reason alone, one must exclude the possibility that international efforts at nuclear disarmament in North Korea will succeed."

The left-leaning Die Tageszeitung writes:

"North Korea is not to be influenced with sanctions. South Korea, Japan and western countries also don't have much by way of sanctions to use in the dealings with North Korea. Pyongyang has always sent the signal that it would rather its population goes hungry than give in to outside pressure. As a result, sanctions imposed up until now have largely been ineffective. Thus, since the beginning of the millennium, many western countries have tried the politics of engagement. That has been equally ineffective."

"China alone can exert real pressure on North Korea. North Korea's survival depends on oil shipments and help from its neighbor…. China's reaction to the test will show whether Beijing's new leader Xi Jinping will only use verbal criticism and symbolic sanctions against Pyongyang or whether it is prepared to take really painful steps."

"With the detonation on Tuesday, Kim has therefore not only tested the nuclear abilities of his regime, but also Xi's politics with North Korea, and with it North Korea's future wiggle room with regards to Beijing."

The conservative Die Welt writes:

"Barack Obama and the EU stand at a crossroads. Forty years ago the US convinced South Korea, Taiwan and Brazil to give up their nuclear programs. With regards to North Korea, that is not working anymore. A nonproliferation treaty hangs in the balance and sanctions are shaky. Iran could be the next country to test a bomb…. Atomic knowledge, however, can not be starved or bombed away."

"Outside of the nonproliferation treaty Switzerland, Sweden, South Africa and the Commonwealth of Independent States freely gave up their planned or operational nuclear weapons. For them political realities were important, namely that these countries were safer without the bomb than with it. That could also be the path in the case of North Korea or Iran. It's a path, however, that is rocky and extremely complicated. Talks and unending patience are requirements for that path, and at the same time, they are the only chance."

The financial daily Handelsblatt writes:

"In reality [despite UN sanctions] little has changed. In no way has the country, which has been surviving for decades from foreign help, been brought to its knees. Why?"

"The answer is simple: North Korea's neighbors could abandon the country. But they don't want to. China naturally doesn't want a collapse of North Korea. By now China is less concerned about this for ideological reasons, but rather because it has no interest in a united Korea that the Americans could use to advance on its borders. The South Koreans have studied German reunification in great detail and have come to the clear conclusion that unification was too expensive. The Japanese, in turn, don't want a strong Korea as international competition. It is bitter enough for them that Samsung is competitive with the iPhone and not a Japanese manufacturer. The Russians, for their part, don't want unrest in their backyard. All that remains are the Americans, who ended the Korean War with Korea's division and for whom a united Korea could be delayed gratification. However, just because Americans want something, doesn't mean that it will happen. Kim naturally knows that, and therefore has playing room in negotiations. Why should it be any different now under these circumstances?"

-- Renuka Rayasam

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