China’s top diplomat in Washington criticized the Obama administration Thursday for pushing Beijing to lean on North Korea’s rogue regime to change its behavior.
“You are giving us a mission impossible,” Chinese Ambassador Cui Tiankai told an audience at the U.S. Institute of Peace.
Mr. Cui said it is not fair for the U.S. to threaten to take steps that could hurt China’s security interests if Beijing didn’t exert its perceived influence in Pyongyang.
“There is one thing that worries me a little, and maybe more than a little bit, is that we are very often told that China has such an influence over [North Korea] and we should force [North Korea] to this or that otherwise the United States will have to do something that will hurt China’s security interests,” he said.
“You are telling us, ‘If you cannot do it, I will do something that will hurt your interests.’ I don’t think that this is very fair,” he said. “I don’t think that this is a constructive way of working with each other.
“These problems cannot be resolve by China alone,” he added.
Mr. Cui did not elaborate on what steps the U.S. has threatened to take that would undermine China’s security interests.
The comments came in a speech in which the ambassador otherwise painted a more upbeat picture of the U.S.-China relationship.
Analysts are divided about how much influence China wields over the regime in Pyongyang.
The public fall from grace and the swift execution in December of North Korean leader Kim Jong-un’s uncle, Jang Sung-taek, raised doubts about this influence. Jang, who was widely seen as the second-most powerful man in North Korea, was said to have close ties to China.
Mr. Kim, North Korea’s 30-something leader, came to power after the death of his father, Kim Jong-il, on Dec. 17, 2011.
Under the younger Mr. Kim, North Korea has tested a nuclear weapon and threatened to attack the U.S. and South Korea, with which it is still technically at war since an armistice ended the neighbors’ last military conflict in 1953.
Beijing has been reluctant to put too much pressure on the regime in Pyongyang out of concern that a destabilized North Korea would send a flood of refugees into China, set the stage for South Korean dominance on the Korean Peninsula, and put the U.S. ally on its doorstep.
China is “most concerned” about North Korea’s nuclear program and the risk of armed conflict between the two Koreas, Mr. Cui said.
“The peninsula is just at our doorsteps. Any chaos, any armed conflict there will certainly have cross-border effect on China,” he added.