Science - October 12, 2006

‘It’s difficult for China to back North Korea now’

North Korea tested nuclear weapons this week, causing a wave of condemnation all over the world. How does Chinese PhD student Gao Ran see the matter?

It is not politics that Gao Ran is reluctant to talk about, but his PhD research. He works at the Product Design and Quality Management Group on the relation between salt balances and protein gelation in milk, and his research is confidential. However, when it comes to politics, he is happy to talk.

‘Of course I hope for peace between China and North Korea. I think the nuclear test that North Korea has undertaken disturbs the stability and safety in the region. North Korea should develop its economy instead of its military,’ says Ran. ‘But North Korea probably wants to increase its military power, and I think there is also a strategic reason behind it – to see how China and Japan react,’ says Ran. This last is especially a pity, thinks Ran, as relations between North and South Korea have been improving in the last few years.

As for China, the nuclear tests make for a bit of an embarrassing situation, Ran says. Both being communist countries, China is a traditional ally of North Korea, they share a long history. Even now, China is North Korea’s main source of energy and food. However, China has changed rapidly in many ways recently, says Ran, while North Korea has remained the same. ‘That makes it difficult for China to back North Korea now.’

‘Twenty years ago, everybody in China had the same beliefs,’ Ran explains. ‘Everybody was a member of the communist party. Now that has changed. I still believe in Communism, but I am not a member of the Communist Party. My parents are, but I’m not. Young people feel free nowadays to choose whether they become a member or not. People are free to be Buddhist or Christian as well. Others like me say: I believe in myself. And people want a better life, because they know it is possible.’

Ran thinks that these changes have passed North Korea by. ‘North Korea has isolated itself from the world, while China has done the opposite and joined the big family of the world. China is growing stronger economically and is undergoing rapid development. Many Chinese are visiting other countries, like I am, and foreign companies are entering China. Many young people in China are becoming influenced by the west and I think that is positive.’

Politically China is changing as well, Ran says. But that doesn’t mean that China will interfere with North Korea: ‘We never interfere with the internal affairs of other countries by military invasion. We hope to do our best to keep the world peaceful through communication or negotiation on an equal basis. We are not like some countries that say to another country ‘we don’t like what’s going on here’ and simply invade it. I know we have our own human rights issue, but this is improving, and I am quite confident that the Chinese people will have a better life in the future because our government is working hard on it. Remember also that we have to feed a lot of people and it is difficult to achieve this in the western way.’ Having enough food is a human right as well, and China is working hard on that, is the message that Ran emphasises.

For Ran personally, being in Wageningen is an opportunity to get to learn about western culture. ‘As I now know both cultures, I am able to compare them, which puts me in a position to choose which culture I like best. I would like people who have opinions about China to do the same. Just go to China and see it for yourself, before you judge.’

Re:act