Does China have any real interest in cooperating on international crisis management with the West? Chinese officials at the United Nations have sided with Russia over Syria and refused to countenance a new sanctions resolution against Iran. These issues, coupled with Beijing’s assertive approach to sovereignty disputes in the western Pacific and Southeast Asia, have overshadowed those cases in which China has pursued cooperation, including efforts to stop a war between Sudan and South Sudan.
Last week, however, there was a fillip for those who hope that China will invest more in collective security arrangements. On Thursday, the U.N. Security Council approved a new package of sanctions against North Korea in response to its February nuclear test. U.S. Ambassador to the U.N. Susan Rice explained that the resolution was the result of three weeks of talks with her Chinese counterpart, Li Baodong.
Some analysts question whether Beijing will honor the agreement, as China’s record of enforcing previous U.N. sanctions against Pyongyang is mixed. Nonetheless, this display of hard-nosed but productive deal-making between China and the U.S. offers a positive contrast to the appallingly protracted Security Council diplomacy over Syria. It also represents an improvement on Sino-American interactions over other recent Korean crises, including the sinking of a South Korean warship in 2010. Back then, Chinese negotiators insisted that a Security Council statement condemning the attack should not blame North Korea, despite strong evidence of Pyongyang’s guilt.