June 18, 2010
Historians may well look back at the sinking of the South Korean corvette Cheonan in March 2010 as a turning point in China’s relations with Asia and the wider world. Beijing’s response to the tragedy has been characterized by a conspicuous reluctance to engage. Instead, it has preferred to keep silent and, when obliged to respond, to counsel patience and calm by all participants. This response has been – to be blunt – insensitive and has alienated the South Korean public. It has exposed the gap between China’s internationalist rhetoric and its pursuit of simple self interest, increasing suspicions of Beijing’s foreign policy and raising doubts about its readiness to support internationally accepted norms of behavior.