- The Washington Times - Monday, December 16, 2002

The United States wants China to help it seal North Korea in a diplomatic tomb, as a Cold War chill between Washington and the communist state deepens with successive nuclear crises.
Top U.S. officials, determined not to bow to what they see as nuclear blackmail from Stalinist leader Kim Jong-il, also are looking to Russia, and allies Japan and South Korea to complete Pyongyang's isolation.
But it is China that is seen as key to the effort, as the state perhaps spiritually closest to North Korea, even though Beijing's leaders have seasoned their communist creed with market capitalism.
Kim Jong-il visited Beijing in 2001 to consult China's leaders, the same year he made his transcontinental rail trek to Moscow.
Increasingly close coordination between Washington and Beijing on North Korea, as well as the U.S. anti-terror battle, reflects the clear shift in Sino-U.S. relations since the September 11 attacks.
While deep fissures over Taiwan and human rights remain, both sides are stressing the intersection of their mutual interests in stability and geopolitics.
Presidents Bush and Jiang Zemin set the tone at their October summit in Texas, agreeing on the need for a peaceful end to the crisis and a nuclear-free Korean Peninsula.
A move by China to cut off all economic assistance and links to Pyongyang could prove a bitter blow to Kim Jong-il's hopes of clinging to power, analysts say.
Hours after Pyongyang edged the peninsular doomsday clock a few ticks closer to midnight last week by saying it would reopen a mothballed plutonium-based nuclear plant, Secretary of State Colin L. Powell phoned Chinese Foreign Minister Tang Jiaxuan.
Mr. Bush and South Korean President Kim Dae-jung later agreed that North Korea must learn there could not be "business as usual" after its nuclear bombshell.
Asked whether Mr. Powell had delivered a similar message to Mr. Tang, his spokesman, Richard Boucher, did not discourage the idea.
"We're working with other governments like Russia and China who have influence and bearing on the situation to bring diplomatic pressure to bear," he said.
North Korea must understand "that its aspirations of cooperation business as usual are not going to be met as long as it continues to violate its previous agreements."
Other than diplomatic pressure, officials refuse to say publicly what kind of strategy Washington would like Beijing to exert.
"China really is the main leverage tool, the U.S. does have room to work with China quietly behind the scenes and really pressure China to cut off its support for North Korea," said Balbina Hwang of the conservative Heritage Foundation.
"It is an immediate and very effective tool that has not yet been fully delved into."
Beijing has had visits over the past two months from a flurry of U.S. officials, including Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage, Assistant Secretary of State James Kelly and Adm. James Fargo, commander of the U.S. Pacific Fleet.
North Korea was key to all those consultations, and also came up last week in the first military-to-military talks between the two sides of the Bush administration at the Pentagon.

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