What is the US up to in North Korea and Vietnam? That is the most worrying question for Beijing today and not the question, what is the US up to in India. There is very little excitement and there are very few signs of concern in political and military circles in Beijing and in the community of Chinese analysts over the forthcoming visit of President Barack Obama to India in November. In contrast, every US move relating to North Korea and Vietnam and even the visits of junior US officials to Vietnam are being closely monitored and analysed.
Is the US trying to use North Korea and Vietnam not only to counter the emergence of China as a major military power in the Pacific, but also to weaken China politically in the same way as the US used China against the USSR? Are the US and South Korea acting jointly to bring about a regime change in North Korea and encourage the emergence of a new leadership that would be favourable to the US interests? Can China count on the loyalty to China of a new regime in Pyongyang if Kim Jong-il is succeeded -- as he is expected to be--by his youngest son Kim Jong-Un ? What would be the attitude of the North Korean military leadership if a new regime in Pyongyang wants to move closer to the US? Its attitude would be very important because in the early stages of a new leadership, the North Korean Army's role in policy-making would be important.
These are the questions worrying Beijing in an increasing measure. The Chinese concerns over the question"What next, after Kim Jong-il?" are reflected in the fact that Kim Jong-il, who had visited China only a few weeks ago, is reportedly again on an unpublicised visit--this time with his youngest son and expected successor-- to China. Is the visit meant to reassure Beijing that it has nothing to fear from his son?
The increasing bonhomie between Washington and Hanoi is another issue of immediate concern to China.How should China counter this-- by increasing pressure on Hanoi or by making overtures to it? How to counter the openly-proclaimed US assertiveness in the South China Sea? What to make of the lack of concern in the South-East Asian countries over the US assertiveness? Is there already a secret understanding between the US on the one side and Vietnam and the Philippines on the other to counter Chinese designs in the area?
The way Beijing has been trying to bully Manila over its mishandling of the bus hijacking incident in which eight Chinese tourists from Hong Kong died on August 23,2010, stands in sharp contrast to China's refraining from any criticism of Pakistan after the attacks on some Chinese nationals by the Pakistani Taliban after the raid by the Pakistan Army into the Lal Masjid of Islamabad in July 2007. In Pakistan too, there have been instances of Chinese engineers being taken hostages by different terrorist groups. The Chinese showed understanding of the difficulties faced by the Pakistani security forces and avoided any open criticism.
In Manila, it was not an act of terrorism. It was an irrational act of a dismissed police officer, who wanted his job back. The situation was definitely mishandled by the police. The Chinese over-reaction to the incident should be of concern to Manila. Whereas Beijing never issued an advisory to its nationals not to visit Pakistan, it has advised its nationals not to visit the Philippines. The Chinese never claimed a right to monitor the Pakistani enquiries into the incidents, but they are claiming a right to monitor the investigation in Manila.
Is the evident Chinese bullying of Manila an outcome of its unhappiness over the assertive policy of the Filippino Government in the South China Sea and its perceived support of the US assertiveness?
These are questions which need to be closely studied in the coming weeks and months. Two significant writings having a bearing on Chinese concerns over North Korea and Vietnam carried by the Party controlled Global Times may please be noted:
B. Raman is Additional Secretary (retd), Cabinet Secretariat, Govt. of India, New Delhi , and presently, Director, Institute For Topical Studies, Chennai, and Associate of the Chennai Centre for China Studies
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