What’s Happening Today, March 17:
The hermit state North Korea’s closest ally, China, has rejected a U.N. human rights report that identified widespread abuses unparalleled in the contemporary world, including crimes against humanity, committed by the North Korean government. China criticized the report when it was released in February, but today a counsellor at the Chinese mission in Geneva condemned the report as being based on unfounded accusations, calling the report’s recommendations, to refer North Korea’s crimes to the International Criminal Court, were “divorced from reality.” The response came after South Korea asked China to support a U.N. Human Rights Council resolution to hold the North Korean government responsible for human rights violations identified by the U.N. report.
Meanwhile, the Chinese foreign ministry’s special representative for Korean affairs, Wu Dawei, arrived in Pyongyang, making his first visit since North Korean leader Kim Jong Un executed his uncle, who was widely considered an ally of China within the North Korean political hierarchy. The Chinese government won’t say why Wu is in North Korea now.
Human rights groups are calling for an international response to the crimes outlined in the U.N. report, as Stephanie Nebehay explains at The Oman Observer:
Campaigners want action. “The fact that these violations are now deemed to be crimes against humanity triggers the responsibility of the international community to respond,” Julie de Rivero of Human Rights Watch said. “It might be a long route but steps need to be taken.”
Roseann Rife of Amnesty International said in a statement: “This is the first real test of the international community to show it is serious about acting on the Commission of Inquiry’s chilling findings. There needs to a concerted effort to ratchet up the pressure on the North Korean government to address these systematic, widespread and grave human rights violations.”
Nebehay concedes international action will be difficult to accomplish, “particularly because Pyongyang’s ally China has veto powers at the Security Council which would have to refer crimes in North Korea to the ICC.” The journal Eurasian Review explains why China doesn’t have an incentive to pressure North Korea, and why it may not be able to control it even if it wanted to:
“China has very serious human rights issues of its own,” Yang Liyu, professor of East Asian Studies at Seton Hall University, told RFA’s Mandarin Service.
“So of course it’s not likely to step up the pressure on North Korea to improve its own human rights situation,” Yang said…
Yang said Beijing has a hard time influencing Pyongyang on any subject, even if it wants to, as in the case of the isolated Stalinist regime’s nuclear program.
“Kim Jong Un doesn’t do as he is told,” he said. “He’s no puppet.”
“North Korea is a regime that doesn’t behave responsibly in the world, and is completely devoid of democratic thinking and of any consideration of human rights,” he said.
“And China doesn’t want to lose its position as North Korea’s only friend.”
The Cato Institute’s Doug Bandow outlines what kind of foreign policy could compel China to change its stance toward North Korea:
To change China’s position requires addressing that government’s concerns, particularly regarding the impact of a united Korea allied with America at a time when the U.S. appears committed to a policy of soft containment. The DPRK’s growing reputation as a human rights outlaw might help.
Beijing obviously is sensitive to the issue, given its own human rights failings. Nevertheless, there is no comparison between the two nations. China also has much at stake in the global order, including its reputation, which will be tarnished if it continues to be widely seen as the only reason the Kim regime survives.
Simply bashing Pyongyang won’t be enough. Washington needs to develop a positive package for a reform North Korean leadership: peace treaty, trade, aid, and integration. The U.S. also should involve South Korea and Japan.
Read the full U.N. report on North Korean abuses here (link to download via the U.N.).