Monday, April 8, 2013

China tries to pull North Korea back from the brinkmanship

Watching his back: Kim Jong-un is unnerved by his generals'
demonstration of how they can crush uppity dictators with their bare hands.

I've said it over and over again (as have others): North Korea as it exists today would not and could not exist without the approval of the Chinese leadership. As I've outlined here and elsewhere, Beijing wants North Korea as a buffer state against a democratic and US-aligned South Korea. It cares little about the horror that goes on within DPRK borders, in part because it finds some of those horrors justified even within its own.

But sometimes a maverick North Korea can go too far even by Chinese standards. North Korean belligerent rhetoric and posturing, insofar as it could lead to a miscalculation and a shooting war, is worrisome to China. Perhaps of greater concern is the prospect of North Korea's nuclear-tipped saber-rattling prompting South Korea and especially Japan to forgo the American nuclear umbrella for their own.

From the Los Angeles Times:
In a sign of China’s exasperation with its rogue ally, North Korea, newly installed Chinese President Xi Jinping on Sunday condemned nations that throw the “world into chaos.”

Without mentioning North Korea by name, Xi told delegates at an international forum in Boao, southern Hainan province: “No one should be allowed to throw a region and even the whole world into chaos for selfish gains.’’

Xi advised turning “our global village into a big stage for common development, rather than an arena where gladiators fight each other."

The warning came as South Korean intelligence warned of an imminent missile launch from North Korea’s East Coast. North Korea has moved an intermediate-range missile into position for what is most likely a routine test but could possibly target U.S. interests in Guam. The South Korean newspaper Joongang Daily also quoted unidentified South Korean government sources as saying the North might be preparing another nuclear test. ...

The United States is looking to Beijing to take a more proactive role in pulling an increasingly shrill Pyongyang back from the brink. After a similar crisis in 2003, Beijing hosted six-nation talks over denuclearization that, at least temporarily, restored calm to the region.

In a rare break with its Communist ally, China sided with the United States in imposing U.N. Security Council sanctions on North Korea after a nuclear test in February.

“This is the first foreign policy test for Xi Jinping," said Lee Chung-min, dean of international studies at Seoul’s Yonsei University. “I think the Chinese leadership is realizing that the North Koreans are more of a liability than an asset and that if they don’t control North Korea there will be consequences." ...

“China has not been very clear on what it is doing about the North Korea situation, which makes me hope there are some backdoor negotiations going on,’’ said Zhan Jiang, a professor at Beijing’s Foreign Studies University.
As critical as I am of China's handling of their client state, Xi's predecessor deserves credit (as I've written here and here) for trying to ease North Korea toward economic reform, which hopefully will one day see North Korea trying to get ahead with economic achievements rather than military rhetoric.


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