Online Extra: "Sanctions Are Useless, Useless"

Wang Yizhou, a Chinese think tank official, says calming down and offering economic assistance to North Korea are the answer

45-year-old Wang Yizhou is deputy director of the Institute of World Economics & Politics at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences in Beijing. He also serves as editor of the monthly World Economics & Politics and has written or edited numerous books on international politics and security, including International Security in the Era of Globalization and The Roots of Terrorism.

He has been researching Korean Peninsula security issues for a decade and has visited South Korea regularly in recent years. BusinessWeek Beijing Bureau Chief Dexter Roberts spoke to Wang on Jan. 7 about China's response to the Korean crisis. Following are edited excerpts from their conversation:

Q: What has been China's reaction to the crisis on the Korean peninsula?

A: China is very concerned about North Korea's recent orientation. We hope that China's northeast gate -- or the Korean peninsula -- can remain stable. This will benefit our economic development. We now also have a very close economic and trade relationship with South Korea. Seoul is our third-largest trade partner, and we're their No. 1 trade partner. This has become a very important economic interest for China.

Q: For decades, China and North Korea have maintained very close relations. How has the geopolitical situation changed?

A: Now, we're facing a very different situation. We have very close economic relations with Japan and South Korea. China and Russia are no longer aligned as we once were. We hope to keep a stable relationship with the U.S. And we have common ground with the U.S. We don't want to see weapons of mass destruction coming to the peninsula. So the scenario today is very different.

Q: Is there a role for the U.N. to play in lowering tensions on the Korean Peninsula?

A: We don't want to see any solutions coming from the U.N. The major consultations should be between the U.S. and North Korea. And bordering countries like South Korea, Russia, and China should also play a role.

Q: Should sanctions continue to be used against North Korea?

A: Sanctions are useless, useless. History has already shown the world that sanctions don't work. Look at Cuba and the Castro regime. Four decades of sanctions have proved useless there. From China's own experience, we find that economic opening and trade works. Sanctions can have the opposite effect. They can strengthen hardline groups who can then say: "Look, the U.S. wants us to die."

Q: What would China's reaction be to the use of military force with North Korea?

A: That would be a disaster. For South Korea, it would be a disaster. One million people could be hit by a North Korean military retaliation following U.S. military action. For American men and women in uniform serving in South Korea, this would also be a disaster. And for Russia and China as well, any military action would also be a disaster.

From our standpoint, we would not want to be involved. But China and Russia would surely not agree to a military solution. We're also concerned about the possibility of floods of North Korean refugees coming into our country.

Q: How can China and other countries work to solve the impasse with North Korea?

A: First, by calming down and offering them economic assistance. We need to encourage North Korea to feel comfortable, feel that their security is guaranteed. The major player in this is the U.S. -- but China and Russia also need to supply security guarantees to North Korea. For the stability of the peninsula, we hope there's dialogue between the U.S. and North Korea. China will contribute everything possible to help this process. In the long run, we need to support the development of economic experiments in North Korea like the economic zones they're creating.

Q: When do you think the unification of the Korean peninsula could happen?

A: This will not be easy. There's a very large gap between these countries -- not only in their different economic standards, but also politically and in their entire systems. After many, many years, perhaps they will be able to unify. I think this will take at least 30 years.

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