U.S. attempts to draw up a broad contingency plan in case North Korea’s government collapses are being complicated by China’s refusal to talk about potential chaos engulfing its dysfunctional neighbor.
Both Washington and Beijing are growing more anxious about the stability of the Korean Peninsula, with Pyongyang’s recent missile and nuclear tests, uncertainty about the health of North Korean leader Kim Jong Il and the apparent designation of his 26-year-old son as successor. There’s much Washington wants to go over with Beijing in a meltdown scenario: securing North Korea’s nuclear weapons, dealing with panicked North Koreans overrunning borders and drawing up ground rules to keep the U.S. and Chinese militaries from clashing as they did in the 1950-53 Korean War.
The U.S. has raised the idea of joint talks in several meetings with senior Chinese officials, most recently during a visit to Beijing last month by U.S. Deputy Secretary of State James Steinberg, The Associated Press has learned from foreign diplomats and Chinese scholars briefed on the meetings. Chinese officials rejected the overtures, although they pledged to work constructively with the U.S. on North Korea. Both the scholars and the diplomats asked to remain anonymous because of the sensitivity of the issue.