What Does N.Korea's Growing Reliance on China Mean?

      May 10, 2010 14:01

      Chinese President Hu Jintao met with visiting North Korean leader Kim Jong-il in Beijing on Wednesday and reportedly called for "stronger strategic communication" including “the internal affairs of both countries," major diplomatic problems and international and regional circumstances. It is rare in global diplomacy to see the leaders of two UN-member countries pledge "strengthened communication about internal affairs."

      Now, China and North Korea appear to have explicitly broken the taboo about meddling in each other's internal affairs.

      Kim said, "A generational shift will not change the friendship between our two countries that has been forged and fostered by our predecessors." Hu replied, "It is the common historical responsibility of both countries to pass down to future generations the friendly relations shared by our two countries."

      There was speculation that one of the objectives of Kim's latest trip to China was to gain a seal of approval for selecting his son Jong-un as his successor. Judging from reports in both Chinese and North Korean state-run media using words like "future generations" and "generational shift," it seems that was an accurate guess.

      Some aspects of relations between China and North Korea cannot be understood by conventional diplomatic protocol and common sense. That became evident during Kim's latest trip, which was reminiscent of the leader of a vassal state in imperial times.

      Kim asked Hu for Chinese investment in North Korea. It appears he has nowhere else to turn as the economic crisis in his country threatens to topple his regime. But China did not rush to North Korea's aid. Premier Wen Jiabao told Kim, "I want to introduce China's experience in opening markets and building the economy." North Korea's state-run media reported every detail of Kim's visit, but left that part out.

      Kim appears uninterested in China's economic model and is only interested in handouts. In those circumstances, there will be no meaningful changes on the horizon for North Korea.

      North Korea remains an international pariah because of its track record of pursuing the development of nuclear weapons and sponsoring terrorism. UN sanctions have made it impossible for South Korea and the U.S. to offer economic assistance. North Korea's wrong-headed strategy of nuclear brinkmanship has isolated it and driven the North to China for more and more assistance. South Korea now faces the task of assessing what impact China's growing influence on North Korea will have on the future of the Korean Peninsula, including the prospects of reunification.

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