WASHINGTON – The U.S. called on China Wednesday to use its political clout to rein in North Korea as American officials confronted the limits of their influence over one of the world’s most unpredictable, and least understood, nuclear powers.
Adm. Mike Mullen, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said during an appearance on ABC’s “The View,” that China’s role was “critical” to keeping North Korea from undertaking provocative acts such as Tuesday’s shelling of a South Korean island, which left four people dead.
“The one country that has influence in Pyongyang is China,” Mullen said, referring to North Korea’s capital. “Their leadership is absolutely critical.”
That view was echoed by State Department spokesman Phillip J. Crowley, who called China’s influence “pivotal to moving North Korea in a fundamentally different direction.”
“We would hope and expect that China will use that influence first to reduce tensions that have arisen as a result of North Korean provocations, and then secondly, continue to encourage North Korea to take affirmative steps to denuclearize,” Crowley said.
But few in Washington expect China to take any major steps, and Chinese news accounts steadfastly avoided any criticism of North Korea’s actions. Xinhua, the official Chinese news agency, quoted a Chinese official as urging both North Korea and South Korea to “do things conducive to peace.”
“We hope related parties do things conducive to peace and stability in the Korean Peninsula,” the agency quoted a Chinese foreign ministry spokesman as saying.
Meanwhile, U.S. officials and defense experts said the U.S. response is complicated by the lack of knowledge of what precisely drives the North Koreans.
No new military confrontations were reported Wednesday, but South Korea raised the death toll from the shelling to four, saying that rescuers had found two dead civilians on Yeonpyeong Island, home to about 600 families. On Tuesday, the South Koreans reported that the shelling had killed two Marines and injured 16 other soldiers.
Mullen said he thinks the North Korean shelling may have its roots in an effort by North Korean leader Kim Jong Il to shore up support among the military for his plan to have his son, Kim Jon Un, succeed him.