In dispatching the aircraft carrier USS George Washington to the Korean Peninsula on Wednesday, the Obama administration said it was putting on a show of US support for South Korea.
South Korea was attacked on Tuesday by a North Korean artillery barrage, and President Obama said he wanted to stand "shoulder to shoulder" with an American ally.
But the carrier — with 6,000 sailors and aviators and 75 warplanes — has another audience: China. Exasperated with a lack of help from Beijing on the Korean Peninsula, the Obama administration is trying to pressure China to constrain North Korea.
Pointedly, the Obama administration is sending the George Washington, four companion ships and at least one attack submarine into the Yellow Sea, off China’s coast.
"The country that can influence North Korea the most is clearly China," said Adm Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. State Department spokesman PJ Crowley also called on China "to send a clear, direct, unified message that it is North Korea that has to change."
"The history of Chinese intervention is that the only time they really intervened to constrain the North Koreans was when they were worried about the prospect of military intervention from our side," said Susan Shirk, a former State Department official.
Whether anyone in Beijing will listen is unclear. In two official statements this week, China has given no hint that it will change its policy of almost complete support for Kim Jong Il’s government.
"North Korea is our East Germany," said one senior Chinese official in Beijing over the summer. "Do you remember what happened when East Germany collapsed? The Soviet Union fell."
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