MUST-READ: Key U.S. Policy-Maker Calls China Out for Double-Dealing

David Asher, who recently led the Illicit Activities Initiative, is probably the architect of our tough new financial strategy against North Korea’s counterfeiting, smuggling, and money laundering.  He is also one of Washington’s clearest thinkers on North Korea.  Asher didn’t know that North Korea would actually  test a nuke when he delivered this address to the Heritage Foundation in September, and really, it deserved more media and blog attention than it got.  Asher, to say the least, doesn’t think China is playing an entirely positive role in disarming North Korea.

I am convinced that the Six-Party Talks mean something very different for Chi ­na than they do for the U.S. or Japan. In fact, I sense that for many in the Chinese leadership the Six-Party Talks have always been more about managing the U.S. and Japan in order to temper the possibil ­ity of our taking actions that could disrupt North Korean stability than they have been about serious ­ly promoting the denuclearization of North Korea. Despite its leading status in the talks, China has only on rare occasions been willing to put pressure on North Korea to denuclearize. Instead, the spo ­radic pressure it has applied has been more geared to trying to get the DPRK to act somewhat more civ ­ilized and less menacing, aiming to control, rather than trying to eliminate, the DPRK nuclear menace.

That  sounds right to me.  China wants North Korea to be a distraction for U.S. power in the region; it doesn’t want to crack the iron first that holds it together, because that could mean a messy democratic revolution, starving refugees, and ultimately, a much stronger unified Korea on its border.  On the other hand, China doesn’t want North Korea to scare the neighbors in the arms of a U.S.-led alliance or missile shield, which could eventually extend to Taiwan.  Its vote for U.N.S.C.R. 1695 was intended  bring Kim Jong Il back to heel, not bring him down. 

There is only a limited  unity of interests between China and the United States.  The United States wants to stop North Korea from becoming the Arsenal of Terror.  China would be giggling into its palm at such a development.  Asher’s polite description of that is “be[ing] realistic about our differences.”  He doesn’t think China is terribly worried about a nuclear North Korea, and I think he’s right.  But then he ups the ante:

China has long served as a safe harbor for North Korean proliferation and illicit trading networks and a transport hub for these networks via its airports and airspace, harbors and sea space. Moreover, in the past decade there have been way too many incidents of Chinese companies actively fronting for North Korea in the procurement of key technologies for the DPRK’s nuclear program. Some of these incidents suggest lax enforcement of export controls, poor border controls, and a head-in-the-sand attitude of senior authorities. Others suggest active collusion and/or deliberately weak enforcement of international laws and agreements against WMD and missile proliferation. There is a great body of information about this and the Chi ­nese are well aware of our grave concerns.

There is ample evidence for that charge, too, and Asher undoubtedly knows more than the publicly available information I’ve compiled.  That information implicates China in helping both North Korea and Iran.  So where is Asher going here?  I’ll give you a taste and advise you to read the rest on your own.

If we want Chinese government officials to act, we need to either present the specifics in a way that is beyond dispute or suggest that if they do not get a grip on the facts and do something themselves there will be significant economic consequences. Appealing to their self-interest is more persuasive than appealing to their purported sense of global responsibility.

Asher’s views may gain more currency as some of China’s cynical positions at the U.N. are revealed:

The latest U.S. proposal, obtained by The Associated Press Wednesday night, dropped Japanese demands to prohibit North Koreans ships from entering any port, and North Korean aircraft from taking off or landing in any country. These sanctions would likely face strong Russian and Chinese opposition.

The resolution would still require countries to freeze all assets related to North Korea’s weapons and missile programs. But a call to freeze assets from other illicit activities such as “counterfeiting, money-laundering or narcotics” was dropped. So was a call to prevent “any abuses of the international financial system” that could contribute to the transfer or development of banned weapons.

It looks like we’re headed to something between “a very angry letter” and sanctions that will really cause Kim Jong Il to disarm, or failing that, stop his proliferation.  Asher puts China’s position in a new light.