Sunday, March 30, 2003
For three straight days in recent weeks, something remarkable happened to the oil pipeline running through northeast China to North Korea - the oil stopped flowing, according to diplomatic sources, temporarily cutting off a vital lifeline for North Korea.
The pipeline shutdown, officially ascribed to a technical problem, followed an unusually blunt message delivered by China to its longtime ally in a high-level meeting in Beijing last month, the sources said. Stop your provocations about the possible development of nuclear weapons, China warned its neighbor, or face Chinese support for economic sanctions against the regime.
Such tough tactics show an unexpected resolve in Beijing's policy toward Pyongyang, and hint at the nervousness of Chinese leaders about North Korea's nuclear ambitions and North Korea's tensions with the United States.
But two sources - both veterans in diplomacy with North Korea - said that last month, Chinese Vice Foreign Minister Wang Yi met in Beijing with North Korean Foreign Minister Paek Nam Sun and made a strikingly candid plea for Pyongyang to curtail its provocative behavior. If Pyongyang did not, Wang told Paek, China might drop its longstanding opposition to sanctions.
The exact wording of that threat is unknown, and it's also not clear how seriously Paek took the threat. But the pipeline shutdown that followed would have caught North Korea's attention.