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China and the US: Similar Frustrations, Different Policies toward North Korea

August 14, 2014 in Economics

By Doug Bandow

Doug Bandow

SHENYANG, CHINA — China-Korean relations are in a state of flux. The People’s Republic of China and South Korea have exchanged presidential visits. Trade statistics suggest that the PRC did not ship any oil to the North during the first quarter of the year. Chinese academics openly speak of Beijing’s irritation with its long-time ally.

The cold feelings are reciprocated. Last year North Korea’s Kim Jong-un sent an envoy to the PRC to unsuccessfully request an invitation to visit. In December Kim had his uncle, Jang Song-taek, executed. Jang had been the most intimate interlocutor with China and the bill of particulars against him included allegations of dubious dealings with the PRC.

These circumstances suggest the possibility of a significant foreign policy shift in Beijing away from the North and toward the Republic of Korea. For the same reason hopes have risen in Washington for Chinese willingness to cooperate more closely on Korean affairs. To the U.S. that means a readiness to place greater pressure on Pyongyang, more fully enforcing international sanctions, reducing investment, and cutting energy and food aid.

However, the PRC remains unwilling to risk instability by undermining the Kim dynasty. Both America and China are frustrated with the DPRK. However, they continue to view the costs and benefits of the most likely alternative endgames — messy North Korean collapse or unification with the South and alliance with America — very differently.

Chinese academics openly speak of Beijing’s irritation with its long-time ally.”

I recently visited China and held scholarly meetings amid excursions to long-missed tourist sites (such as Mao’s Mausoleum!). I also made it to Shenyang, where relations with the North are of great interest because of proximity, if nothing else; the city is about a two hour drive from the Yalu River.

I met one senior scholar who indicated that there was no doubt that Beijing-Pyongyang relations had changed since Kim came to power. The two nations “have a different relationship now and it is becoming colder than ever before.” In contrast, relations between the South and China were “becoming more intense.”

Although the dip in ties between North and PRC was a “big change,” Jang’s execution had been “weighed too heavily by Western researchers,” he indicated. In fact, economic relations had continued, including major infrastructure projects such as bridges over both the Yalu and Tumen Rivers. Jang’s fate was a matter of internal North Korea politics, …read more

Source: OP-EDS

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