If China is to assume what it considers to be its rightful place as a great power, now is the moment. The world is looking to Beijing as the only government with a measure of influence over its lunatic nuclear ward in the Hermit Kingdom. The question is, will it use it?
No one is speaking publicly about Beijing's biggest source of influence: the 900-mile border it shares with North Korea. Opening the frontier to refugees would put pressure on Kim Jong Il to give up his nukes or watch his regime implode. As Mark Palmer, U.S. ambassador to Hungary in 1989, has noted, the East German refugees who passed through that country en route to West Germany sped the collapse of the Soviet Union.
If Beijing wants to send a message to Pyongyang about its nuclear program, it could announce that, effective immediately, it is taking several steps: It will stop deporting North Koreans, allow the United Nations to set up refugee camps, and permit the resettlement of refugees in third countries, from which they could go to South Korea, whose constitution codifies its moral responsibility to accept its Northern cousins, or to other countries willing to take them in. The U.S., which so far has accepted a mere eight North Koreans, could step up to the plate here.
Winter is coming, and there are already reports of food shortages [in North Korea]. Allowing the world to help the North Korean refugees in China would help Beijing deal with a problem that is likely to get worse.
[Excerpt of Opinion written by Melanie Kirkpatrick, deputy editor of The Wall Street Journal's editorial page]