Against stern warnings of the six powers negotiating North Korea, President Kim Jong went ahead and conducted the test. China was among the six powers. After the test China's government expressed unconcealed fury again North Korea. Along with other nations, including America, it warned of dire consequences to follow. It is an accepted fact that China can bring North Korea to its knees. North Korea depends on China for food and oil. And yet, Kim could defy China? How?
One theory is that the Chinese government is deceiving the world with its traditional double-faced duplicity. That theory is hard to swallow. President Hu has worked hard to win credibility for China as a responsible world leader. China's future plans for economic advancement hinge on that. Would he squander that hard-earned credibility by a reckless adventure? To what end? Even more persuasive against this theory is the importance attached by the Chinese to always keep face. The North Korean action is an unconcealed insult to President Hu. It is doubtful if he can overlook that.
The question arises, then: what gave President Kim the confidence to go ahead with the nuclear test? Some commentators have attributed it to eccentric personality traits. This seems na've. Dictators have a sixth sense for self-preservation. President Kim would not cut off his lifeline to China and invite suicide. He must have some assurance that China will not abandon him. Is it possible that such assurance came from former President Jiang Zemin's loyalists?
China's spectacular economic advance under Jiang was accompanied by huge graft and exploitation of its peasantry. President Hu is trying to rectify that. This brings him into conflict with Jiang's loyalists, known generally as the Shanghai group. Recently in his battle to bring reforms President Hu sacked one of Jiang's most powerful favorites, Shanghai's Communist Party Chief Chen Liangyu. This was followed by the sacking of two other functionaries. The question comes inevitably to mind: are we seeing the beginning of a power struggle within China? The balance of power in such struggles within dictatorships is often redressed by external adventures. If President Hu's international credibility can be eroded, he would domestically be noticeably weakened.
Some recent moves are intriguing. After the nuclear test, President Kim offered direct talks with President Bush. He was rebuffed. President Bush insisted on continuance of the six-nation dialogue. If President Bush had accepted Pyongyang's offer he would have cut himself off from President Hu. And President Kim would have bypassed China and thereby diminished President Hu domestically. By insisting on multilateral diplomacy President Bush would have tested China by demanding tough sanctions against North Korea. This would have indicated President Hu's strength in China.
What happened? China crumpled. It had to accept the softened UN resolution, but lamely said it wouldn't search North Korean cargo. It ruled out stoppage of oil and food supplies to North Korea for fear of hurting its people. It even advised direct talks between America and North Korea! So does this somersault suggest calibration or nervous second thoughts? China's Communist Party's plenary session which concluded last week indicated President Hu's firm control over the party.
But what about the Peoples' Liberation Army (PLA)? Its power should not be underestimated. It was PLA which liberated China and installed the Chinese Communist government. PLA was the father, China's communist government its child. Mao Zedong's empathy with his comrades of the Long March never disappeared. It was during Jiang Zemin's tenure that PLA made enormous economic advances to benefit its generals and augment its strength. Jiang brought about China's five-to-one trade advantage with the US, ably assisted by his American ally, Dr Henry Kissinger.
Far from putting President Bush alone in a spot, then, the North Korean nuclear test may equally impede President Hu's bid to cement ties with other world powers. It would seem too far-fetched to suggest that the North Korean test has actually served America's purpose, by sharpening a possible split inside China. But it is true nevertheless that North Korea received the design and key components of its light water nuclear reactors from the Swiss engineering multinational, ABB, in 2000. At that time US Defence Secretary Donald Rumsfeld was a non-executive director of ABB. He sat on the company's board from 1990 to 2001. At that time President Clinton was trying to woo North Korea and did not object to the sale of the reactor. Mr. Rumsfeld eventually left ABB to join the Bush administration. So, are there wheels within wheels?
President Kim appears, meanwhile, almost to be spoiling for a fight. North Korea's foreign ministry has said that if the US kept 'pestering' them they would regard it as a 'declaration of war' and take 'physical corresponding measures'. At the same time North Korea's number two leader Kim Yong Nam threatened to conduct further tests. But he held a carrot. If sanctions were avoided North Korea could return to the six-nation talks. In other words, equate North Korea with India and throw the Nuclear Proliferation Treaty ' to which North Korea was signatory and India was not ' in the dustbin. India must cold-bloodedly consider whose interests this would benefit and whom it would harm.
After North Korea's test there is talk of a new international effort to curb further nuclear proliferation. Poppycock! The NPT is dead. Already, the world has reached a stage where, in the absence of total nuclear disarmament, a nuclear attack seems but a matter of time. No nation may explode the bomb. But terrorists might. Which government would help the terrorists acquire the bomb? That may never be conclusively proved. Consider the immense opportunities that the present situation affords to any malignant power. As long as terrorism survives and nuclear weapons co-exist, the world sits on a powder keg. No nation would dare launch a nuclear attack for fear of reprisal. But governments can use terrorists as proxies. Against which nation would the world react? For example, if terrorists made a nuclear strike against India, whom would people blame? Universally, they would blame Pakistan. But suppose the terrorists in reality were deployed by any third government manipulating events, how would we ever know? Co-existence between terrorism and nuclear proliferation perceptibly drags humanity towards apocalypse.