CHINA AND NORTH KOREA….Haesook Chae has an interesting op-ed in the LA Times today saying that we’re all misreading China’s motives when they insist on staying aloof in the North Korean crisis:

The key to understanding China’s behavior is realizing that exclusively bilateral talks [between the U.S. and North Korea] could produce what China secretly craves: the removal of the U.S. military presence from the Korean peninsula.

….Ejection of the U.S. military presence is an essential first step toward China’s ultimate long-term goals: reunification with Taiwan and reassertion as the dominant regional power.

And a story in the Washington Post seems to back this up:

Chinese officials complained today to U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell that the United States is not giving China enough credit for supporting President Bush’s positions on Iraq and North Korea, Chinese sources said.

….”We have gone out of our way to cooperate and coordinate, at least privately, with the United States on Iraq and North Korea,” said Wang Jisi, a leading expert on U.S.-China relations who is familiar with government views on the issue, “but what have we gotten in return?”

Specifically, he said China was looking for some U.S. movement on Taiwan involving decreased arms sales or at least a willingness to take China’s security interests into account.

Bush would certainly not abandon Taiwan, but Rumsfeld has publicly talked about reducing or removing our troops in South Korea and Powell has resumed food aid to North Korea, which helps to stem the problem of refugees swarming across the border into China. If we’re willing to do this much for China, it’s not inconceivable that we might work some modest deal on arms sales to Taiwan as well.

JFK ended the Cuban Missile Crisis by secretly agreeing to remove U.S. missiles in Turkey in exchange for the Soviet Union removing its missiles from Cuba. I wonder if the same thing is happening here, and six months after the problem is resolved we’ll decide “based on independent review” to remove our troops from South Korea and modify our current arms agreement with Taiwan?

Whatever else is going on behind the scenes, it sure looks like China knows how to drive a hard bargain.