What may end up being most significant about the new draft resolution in the U.N. Security Council to impose stricter sanctions on North Korea, which China seems willing to sign, may not be what it amounts to in terms of denuclearizing the DPRK, but what it portends for U.S.-China relations. Although it is still too early to be certain, this may represent a bold new step forward by Party General Secretary Xi Jinping and China’s new leadership in signaling the U.S. that China is now interested in finding new areas of convergence. To date, China has been rather reluctant to support multilateral action toward so-called rogue regimes: China opposed NATO’s military campaign in Libya and, last July, China and Russia vetoed a U.N. Security Council resolution, that would have threatened sanctions against Syria’s leadership.
But now not only have China’s leaders agreed to strict new sanctions on a foreign power, but on a country that is both a neighbor and a traditional ally.
This is a particularly tantalizing moment because it comes just as the new leaders in Beijing are beginning to define their new foreign policy perspective while at the same time Barrack Obama is reorganizing his team for his second term. It may well represent the most significant gesture China has made toward Washington in recent years of wanting to reset the bilateral relationship.
When he visited Washington last year, Xi called for a “new type of great power relationship.” And at the 18th Party Congress last November, Xi’s predecessor Hu Jintao’s report to the Party spoke of a “new type of relations among major powers” characterized by “mutual respect, mutual benefits and a win-win partnership.”
It’s going to be interesting to watch both how Washington interprets this gesture and how the Chinese for their part carry it out.