China and Hong Kong: Responses to Cheonan sinking incident

The release of the international investigation report on sinking of Cheonan in May 20, 2010, concluding that the South Korean warship had been bombed by a North Korean torpedo has alleviating the tension in Northeast Asia region. South Korea suspended all trade and investment with North Korea while Pyongyang denied its responsibility for the March 26 incident and called the investigation a “fabrication”. The U.S government urged for global response but the Russian government did not support to raise the issue in the U.N Security Council until it gets 100% proof that the ship was sunk by North Korea.

How about Chinese government's response?

Up till now, the Chinese government's position has remained ambivalent, as chinesesky notes:

在中国当代外交史,这次危机独一无 二。以往不是出现敌对一方进行双边挑战,就是有多边讨论需要中国调停,鲜有天安号事件这样,双方都希望逼中国作出鲜明、带有实质行动的表态,而双方都不能 不算是中国朋友。历史上,最接近的案例有两个,一个是1971年的孟加拉独立战争,当时孟加拉一方积极争取中国,以为基于「被压迫人民」的身分,会得到毛 泽东支持,但由于孟加拉要求脱离的巴基斯坦,是中国铁杆盟友,最终中国站在巴基斯坦一边,放弃「世界人民」。另一个是 2003年的伊拉克战争,中国在暧昧多月后,终于说站在反战的法德俄一方,但其实两面不讨好。

In the Chinese diplomatic history, such kind of crisis is very distinctive. In the past, the China is either challenged by the enemy power or has to act as a middleman in multilateral conflicts. In the sinking of Cheonan, both sides are seeking support from China. Both countries are in friendly relation with China. Looking back at the history, we had two similar cases. The first one the Bangladesh independent war in 1971. At that time, Mao should have supported “the oppressed people” but Pakistan was China's alliance. In the end, China sided with Pakistan and gave up “the people”. Another case is the Iraq war in 2003. After a few months silence, it sided with France and Germany against the War.

Baijiajiangtan thinks that the Chinese government has to adjust its strategic position:

当朝鲜以偏激方式屡屡突破国际社会的容忍极限时,既有的战略 影响力没有转化为有效的实际制约能力,这表明中国长年奉行的战略定位不再适应整个现实的变化,也意味着对朝关系新思维已成为一个不容回避的急迫命题。

North Korea has kept crossing the line and testing the limit of international society and the intervention of China seems ineffective. It shows that it has to adjust its strategic position to deal with the current situation.


一个高度集权、封闭、贫穷而又无视国际准则的朝鲜政权的存在,不符合当今中国的战略利益,甚至对某些重大利益产生冲击。近二十年来,朝鲜核 问题一再挑动国际社会的敏感神经,六方会谈折冲樽俎的结果,竟是朝鲜基本一步步成为“有核国家”。如果朝鲜弃核的可能性被彻底打破,日、韩势必加入核竞 赛,东北亚将成为全球拥核国家最密集、安全形势最严峻的地区,这是中国无论如何都不能接受的。

A poor, closed and authoritarian state which ignores international rule is not strategically beneficial to China. In the past 20 years, the nuclear crisis in North Korea has created tension in the international world and the 6-party negotiation has somehow given North Korea rights to develop nuclear technology. If there is no hope to turn North Korea into a nuke-free country, Japan and South Korea will join in the nuclear race and northeast Asia will become a nuclear military zone. This is unacceptable to China.


反之,一个统一、繁荣和民主的韩国,未必不符合中国的战略利益。朝鲜半岛的分裂现状,是冷战时代的政治延伸。冷战的终结也意味着,不管会经 历多少波折,半岛的统一都是大势所趋。…统一的韩国将为中国东三省带来空前的市场和经济机遇,东北亚经济圈将真正成型,为这一地区带来繁荣和活力。

On the other side of the coin, a united, prosperous and democratic Korea may not be against the China strategic interest. The splitting up of Korea peninsular is the result of Cold War. The end of the Cold War would imply the reunion of the two…. A united Korea will bring economic opportunity for Dongbei area and the economic circle of northeast Asia will come into reality.

Conspiracy theory

However, Baijiajiangtan's aspiration to end the Cold War is too idealistic to others. In fact many immediate reactions still follow the Cold War conspiracy theory:

@虫小柒 from said:

虫小柒:唇亡齿寒,朝鲜一灭,矛头接着就对准中国,到时候俄罗斯岌岌可危,所以爸爸出面了,妈妈垂帘听政,这一战,想打,困难~ 《俄将派人赴韩了解天安号事件》

Without the lips, the teeth feel cold. If North Korea disappeared, all the spears will be directed to China and Russia will also be threatened. That's why the father (Russia) has decided to step out, while the mother (China) is listening behind the curtain. The war won't happen like this ~ “The Russian government will send a team to investigate the Cheonan incident”

@寒正 from also doubted the credibility of the South Korea investigation:


We should not believe the South Korean report so easily, many countries have such kind of torpedo, not to mention the metal fragments. If it was a secret attack, how could they have left the traces of Korean on the fragments? And why did the South Korean government reject the North Korean investigation team? … The incident can be a conspiracy among Japan, South Korea and the U.S.

Another Korean War?

Whether or not there would be another Korean War and whether China would be dragged into the chaos is always a common concern:

@ 新华龙 says:

新华龙:朝鲜是 敢打的,一是有后盾(中俄);二是不破不立,不打日子难过,打了说不定能捞到点什么的。韩国不会轻易开火,他的人值钱一点一般犯不着和夯货去拼命,但国内 的大选需要“外乱”,只能走险棋。只怕是开腔容易,开枪难,开了腔而不开枪,犹难。 有点担心这个小老弟,再把我们拖出一个“志愿军”来。

North Korea with the support of China and Russia would not be afraid of entering war. Moreover, their days might be easier with the War. South Korea would not venture into war. They don't have to risk their lives for nothing. However, the general election calls for “outside threats”. This is a risky step. Now that it has begun, it would be difficult to end. Feel worried that we would be dragged into war by our little brother.

Thaidick from Discuss Hong Kong, however, does not think China will enter into the dirty water:

中國搞開放改革, 要發展經濟, 走向世界

Concerning with the relations between China and DPRK, all the good old days are gone. Now China follows the open-door policy and develops its economy to join the world. How will China get involved by Mr. Kim?

This article is co-authored with WingLok


  • Christine Bell

    I read with great interest the information on Chinese reaction to the “Korean Tension”. The idea of conspiracy struck me as well. I think it is important to have an international investigation of the sinking. Till that is done,we can see just how bad this situation can get. As a U.S. citizen, I would take issue that we were involved, but am also aware that many peoples think we are agitating in different parts of the world. This would be another good reason for an open investigation. Things are wound a little too tightly in many parts of the world today, it wouldn’t take much to start yet another war. I pray that all peoples be lead to work toward a just and lasting Peace. There is so much work to do. When I first heard of incident,my first thought was: let the Korea’s find the truth and then seek repiration where due, but please, everyone, no more wars.

  • Camila

    Thanks for the report, very interesting and useful for us to get known what is really happening there

  • J Hauben

    From everything I have seen, the cause of explosion has not be

    In any case, it makes me sad and angry to see how much trouble is being
    whipped up for the Korean people over the Cheonan explosion. The S Korean
    government and conservative press are framing it as S Korea’s 9/11.

    For me, I have still seen no evidence that DPRK could have been involved in
    the sinking of the Cheonan. One friend who was in the S Korean Navy says the
    water near the explosion is too shallow for a submarine. He also says, the
    explosion shows the S Korean government can not protect its sailors from
    accident or attack. Also, that the S Korean command was not in control until
    1 hour after the explosion. All these concerns seem to be off the agenda

    The accusation against N Korean and the big wind to say “Who else could it
    have been?” shows the criteria of “innocent until proven guilty” has been
    pushed aside. But that is McCarthyism. Whomever McCarthy called a communist
    was harassed, fired, beaten or imprisoned, because to be accused was to be

    DPRK deserves the right to examine the evidence against it, to provide its
    defense and to have an impartial body judge if the accusation has any merit.
    But in the current situation none of that seems likely to happen.

    I found these interesting:

  • Michael

    Hi, I am Swedish speaking person, I read Swedens largest daily news “Dagens Nyheter”, Sweden was one of the countries investigating the the torpedo attack, Sweden is a neutral Socialist Country (it does not belong to NATO) and they also said the torpedo came from North Korea.

    I don’t think there is a “fabrication of facts” here, you have to take the above into consideration and not only mention USA even if I am quite suspicious about USA and could very well imagine USA created this.

  • Bono

    I think you people are all of 100 IQ or under. How many threats does Kim Jong Il and his crony government have to make against the South for you to realise that they are almost certainly to blame???!!! All you have to do is look at the history of events between North K and South K. It’s not just the threats either, the North have been PROVEN to attack the South on many occasions since the Korean war ended with an armistace in 1953, ie blowing up a passanger jet full of innocent civilians was one of the more recent attacks. So this is not the first attack by NK against the South. Furthermore, what have the South to gain by making up an incident that could spark war at any moment? History speaks very clearly that the South do NOT want a war. They have never retaliated against any of these attacks from the North, instead they have instigated many re-unification schemes and joint projects with the North in a bid to develope a lasting peace. Also, the investigation was an international investigation purposefully done this way to avoid accusations of foul play. To label this incident as an attempt to “frame NK”, is an attack on the veracity of all countries involved in the investigation. What this incident truthfully highlights is the hipocracy of the Chinese and Russian governments. They will condemn any country for acts of violence unless theat country is located on their own doorstep. Shame on China and Russia and shame on North North Korea!!!

  • J Hauben

    The South Korean government headed by Lee Myung-bak found it necessary to try to dispel criticism that its accusation that North Korea is responsible for the sinking on March 26 of the Cheonan warship is politically motivated and a cover-up or possible false flag operation.

    Given the growing set of questions about the South Korean government’s account of the sinking of the Cheonan, the government invited some chosen bloggers and twitter users to a session “to dispel any doubts among the young that North Korea was behind the deadly attack”.

    The doubts are described in OhmyNews International at:

  • jay hauben

    June 15 at 11:00am to noon, a Press Conference was held by H.E. Mr. Sin Son Ho, Permanent Representative of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea to the United Nations, on the current situation in the Korean Peninsula.

    Over 100 reporters from around the world attended the press conference.

    It began by a presentation of the position of DPRK on the Cheonan incident
    followed by questions and answers with the UN press corps.

    You can see and hear the 58 minute conference at:

    At 52:00 minutes into the press conference, Ambassador Sin was asked about the connection between June 15, 2000 and now. The Ambassador give an upbeat call for principled and peaceful relations among all Koreans and eventually unification of the Korean Peninsula.

    His main point in the press conference is that the ROK’s claims about DPRK are fabrications. If DPRK could send an investigation team to the site many of
    the mysteries could be cleared up.

    His presentation is well worth listening to.

  • […] A South Korean warship, the Cheonan, was sunk in the West Sea on 26 March by an alleged North Korean torpedo attack, killing 46 sailors. While the government was busy dealing with this tragic disaster, Korean bloggers raised various conspiracy theories and gave out different explanations for this mysterious incident. As tensions between the two Koreas intensified over the year, most rumors with their own versions of who attacked the Cheonan, have gradually disappeared.  (China and Hong Kong's Responses to the Incident, By Oiwan Lam)   […]

  • […] by the North Korean military at a South Korean Island near the end of November. Following the Cheonan sinking incident in May, Chinese netizens began questioning whether or not China should continue to support the Kim […]

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