The missiles that North Korea test-launched over the Sea of Japan have presented China with a choice it wishes it didn’t have to make. It is the choice between joining the rest of the world (save Russia) in trying earnestly to bring North Korea into modernity, or staying the current course towards inevitable conflict.
So far, sadly, the leaders in Beijing show no signs of moving beyond symbolic language. Naturally, they have condemned the tests. But they have also urged restraint in the face of American and Japanese calls for economic sanctions, and their official statements after the launch were carefully worded so as not to offend Kim Jong-Il and his band of miserable pranksters.
Too bad, because China could seize this opportunity to relieve itself of the constant pressure it is feeling from the US over its heated economy. Were China to put real pressure on North Korea, get Pyongyang back to the negotiating tables and actually produce some results, they would have enormous leverage to say to America: we’ve done you a favor, now you do us one and back off on all this revaluation noise. By doing nothing, it risks angering the US even more, and hence drawing more attention to its undervalued currency and swelling foreign reserves. What’s a rising power to do? Try throwing its weight around in its own region.