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Can China Lie Low?

Tucked away in Thursday's International Herald Tribune was a thoughtful (and thought provoking) column by Howard W. French. Titled Letter From China: Difficult choices ahead on North Korea alliance, it is well worth reading. We offer here the concluding four paragraphs, but readers will be rewarded for reading the entire column and learning how the author arrives here.

Today, South Korea is hewing more and more to its own path, steadily diluting its alliance with Washington. There is scant comfort in this for China, though, because this means two rich and assertive neighbors to deal with simultaneously, South Korea and Japan, rather than the deferential clients this country has always preferred to surround itself with.

Whichever route Beijing chooses, painful questions of responsibility lie ahead. Self-serving, make-believe history, like the war museum exhibits at Dandong, which pretend that America started the war and that China flew to the rescue and stood on the side of justice will have to be squared with a reality shot through with atrocity.

Where has China been through the years of starvation, in which millions of North Koreans have died because of capricious policies? What has China said to its ally during decades of a vicious brand of totalitarian rule that this country knows all too well from its own experience, and has fortunately rejected?

It is fine and well to complain about other states behaving as the world's policeman. But as China steps into the future, its involvement with countries like North Korea suggests that tiptoeing will be ever more difficult. And coupled with the question of what to do, come questions about what you have done.