Yesterday, China gave official notice of its postponement of the next session of the six-party talks to disarm North Korea. They were scheduled to begin tomorrow in Beijing.

The Chinese did not give a reason for their last-minute change in plans, but observers assume it was because the North Koreans said they would not participate. Given Pyongyang’s unprecedented cooperation with Washington during the last several months, their change of posture was unexpected.

South Korea’s Yonhap News Agency cites sources indicating that China is in fact the cause of the trouble. The Chinese said they would provide heavy fuel oil to North Korea before the end of last month in accordance with the nuclear deal they brokered in February, but they only made the first of the planned deliveries this Sunday.

Why would China sabotage the agreement it had put together? It’s always difficult to figure out what is happening when two Communist states deal with each other. Yet it has been apparent for some time that Beijing has not wanted North Korea, its only military ally, to grow closer to the United States. With very few exceptions, there has been progress in the six-party talks only when American and North Korean representatives have sat together without their Chinese counterparts, as they did in Berlin in January and in New York in March. China, on most occasions, has used its mediating role to keep Washington and Pyongyang apart.

I’m not saying that negotiating with Kim Jong Il’s regime is necessarily in our interest. I am suggesting, however, that China, despite all its professions to the contrary, does not want to see a reconciliation between the United States and North Korea. We should begin asking ourselves why.

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