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China and the North Korean Nuclear Crisis

Carrots and Sticks

Since the North Korean nuclear crisis began in October 2002, Washington has believed that China is the key to solving the problem. The Bush administration has indicated repeatedly that it expects the PRC to exert whatever diplomatic and economic pressure is needed to get North Korea to abandon her nuclear ambitions. From time to time, frustration has surfaced in Washington that China has not done more to pressure her neighbor. Robert Joseph, under secretary of state for arms control and international security, has perhaps been the most direct, saying that the administration believes “China can do more to get [the North Koreans] to eliminate their nuclear weapons program.” He observed that Beijing had “a number of tools” to use to influence Pyongyang and warned that, if China did not act more forcefully, “there possibly could be very significant consequences for U.S.-Chinese relations.”

Christopher Hill, assistant secretary of state for East Asian and Pacific affairs, has been a little more oblique than Joseph in his criticism. Responding to a question from Richard Lugar, chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Hill said, “I agree with you that China has been reluctant to use the full range of leverage that we believe China has.” The annual report of the U.S-China Economic and Security Review Commission, issued in November 2005, expresses similar complaints.

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