Last Sunday in the closing news conference of the trilateral China-Japan-South Korean summit in South Korea, Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao said: "The urgent task for the moment is to properly handle the serious impact caused by the Cheonan incident, gradually defuse tensions over it and avoid possible conflicts." He was referring to the unprovoked attack and destruction of the South Korean vessel by North Korea. From this it became evident that the Chinese government was unable to either take a hard line against Pyongyang or curb its adventurism. The North Korean action, like several earlier unilateral actions taken by it, did not serve any visible interests of Beijing. Yet, North Korea continues to have its way. Why and how?
For many years circumstantial evidence provided one obvious reason. The government in Beijing is not in full command of its policies. On many occasions it has had to bow down before the dictates of China’s People’s Liberation Army (PLA). To substantiate it this scribe drew attention to various events. On numerous occasions the utterances of President Hu Jintao and Premier Wen Jiabao were rubbished by developments emanating from official sources in Beijing.
One example was provided by Beijing overturning its written commitment given in 2005 to not disturb settled populations for resolving the boundary dispute by later claiming Arunachal Pradesh. Continuous conflicting signals from Beijing indicated that either the Chinese government was brazenly and crudely hypocritical, or that its authority could be challenged from within. The first possibility was ruled out because given Chinese tradition of keeping face no President would willingly allow his own commitments to be rubbished.
The second projection offered by this scribe, that Beijing was thwarted by PLA, was confirmed by America’s prestigious journal, Foreign Affairs. In its May-June 2007 issue two China experts, Bates Gill and Martin Kleiber, analyzing China’s flip-flop policies wrote: “Put bluntly, Beijing’s right hand may not have known what its left hand was doing. The PLA (proceeds) without consulting other key parts of the Chinese security and foreign policy bureaucracy.”
At the global level the most glaring evidence of Beijing ’s impotence in dealing with the PLA is provided by successive actions of the North Korean government. North Korea is the world’s most repressive regime. It can barely feed itself. By stopping food and fuel supplies Beijing can bring North Korea to its knees in less than a week.
Yet, Pyongyang has repeatedly defied President Hu Jintao and Premier Wen Jiabao. Earlier it conducted a nuclear test against the expressed wishes of Beijing. It subsequently fired a missile dangerously close to Japan as provocation. On both occasion Beijing could only helplessly wring its hands. How can impoverished North Korea boast of advanced military power and nuclear technology without outside support? From where does it derive its power to defy the leaders of the Chinese government? The obvious inference is that it derives its clout from the PLA. North Korean President Kim Jong II is running a regime that parallels the former Cambodian regime of Pol Pot. The PLA was Pol Pot’s patron and mentor. The overwhelming evidence suggests that PLA controls North Korea.
Despite this, western media and governments keep alive the fiction that North Korea is an in dependent entity outside Beijing ’s control. This hypocrisy arises no doubt from the West’s economic entrapment by China. America has repeatedly failed to assert itself with Beijing on the North Korean question.
North Korea deliberately provoked Japan by firing a rocket along its borders. After that on April 6 2009 this scribe wrote: “The US and Japan had warned Pyongyang that the rocket would be shot down if fired. The rocket was fired. Nothing was done to stop it… North Korea was really testing long-range ballistic missile technology that could be used to carry a nuclear warhead to as far as America… all that Obama could do was to criticize North Korea’s test and propose a summit in Washington to ratify a ban on nuclear testing. He said: "I state clearly and with conviction America 's commitment to seek the peace and security of a world without nuclear weapons.”
President Obama’s response was so pathetic that America can be written off as far as dealing with Beijing is concerned. The current standoff with North Korea suggests that President Hu Jinatao and Premier Wen Jiabao are equally impotent in dealing with North Korea because the ultimate power in China continues to flow from the barrel of the gun held by PLA. Therefore Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and his misty eyed colleagues who seek ever closer economic and cultural ties with China need a reality check. Until the Beijing government gives visible proof that it can exercise its authority over the PLA, it is foolhardy to trust China . The relationship between the Beijing government and PLA is exactly like that between the Pakistan government and its army. Indeed, it is more likely that Islamabad will eventually prevail over the Pakistan army than there is of Beijing overcoming PLA.