Green Room

CBS: Even the Chinese are getting tired of North Korea

posted at 12:05 pm on April 4, 2013 by

Both Allahpundit and I have written about the antics in Pyongyang today, but this works as a bit of a backgrounder to see how the political ground may be subtly shifting under Kim Jong-un’s feet.  China has been North Korea’s only friend for decades, and China has good strategic reasons to have the DPRK as a client state and irritant to the US and Japan.  However, the events of the last few years, combined with increased trade across the Pacific, has some in China wondering why they still bother:

“North Korea is a crazy country and it has a crazy leadership,” Beijing resident Wu told CBS News, giving only his first name. “They talk nonsense while holding their peoples’ lives hostage. The government uses money to build nuclear weapons while their people starve.”

“North Korean leaders don’t care about people’s lives,” he continued. “They are really playing with the lives of their people. China should use food as a weapon. It should stop providing food and put pressure on North Korea.” …

Some Chinese academics have also begun questioning their country’s continued support for the North.

“The United States is one of the largest trading partners to China,” Cheng Xiaohe, an Associate Professor of International Relations at China’s Renmin University tells CBS News. “The ROK (Republic of Korea — South Korea) is also a trading partner to China. So the two countries, China and the DPRK (Democratic Peoples’ Republic of Korea – North Korea), don’t share common enemies. The treaties the two countries signed 40 years ago, 50 years ago, have become increasingly irrelevant.”

Cheng says that while China’s state-run media remain overtly sympathetic toward North Korea, “other mass-media have become increasingly frustrated with the DPRK, particularly the DPRK’s provocation within the past year. We understand how the train in Chinese mass media moves, but from my personal observations, the train now is moving towards the direction not favorable to the DPRK.”

Officially, the government remains pro-Pyongyang, as a Communist Party journal editor discovered when he offered similar opinions in print recently; he’s on indefinite suspension at the moment.  Still, the fact that the Chinese are openly critical of both North Korea and Beijing’s alliance with the Kim regime shows that Kim may be at risk of cutting off his only link to any sort of aid and support at all.

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However, the events of the last few years, combined with increased trade across the Pacific

I wonder, who is the ROK’s biggest trading partner?

DarkCurrent on April 4, 2013 at 12:20 PM

Well, since China more or less owns the US now, and we’re the ones who buy most of their cheap junk, they sure as heck don’t want the NorKs damaging any of their property or customer base…..

dentarthurdent on April 4, 2013 at 12:21 PM

What price does China pay for propping up Pyongyang? Little, if any, so getting tired probably won’t change anything.

Christien on April 4, 2013 at 12:36 PM

Well, wouldn’t you get tired of sharing a border with a basket-case?

Sort of like the US has to deal with the near-failed-state, Mexico, and its narco war on our southern border…just much worse, potentially, for the region although I think Mexico harms the US more than North Korea harms China (NK will kill any citizens it catches trying to escape and China will either kill or return any that succeed).

Resist We Much on April 4, 2013 at 12:40 PM

I believe the ChiCom leadership is asking itself a few questions:

- Is it worth having a land buffer between themselves and South Korea if that land buffer is run by a complete uncontrollable nut?
- Is it worth having a united capitalist Korea share a border considering they’re going to be busy rebuilding the North for the next few decades?
- If there is a united Korea, will the US withdraw from the Asian mainland and thus really open the door to the South China Sea and Taiwan?

Steve Eggleston on April 4, 2013 at 12:54 PM

- If there is a united Korea, will the US withdraw from the Asian mainland and thus really open the door to the South China Sea and Taiwan?

Steve Eggleston on April 4, 2013 at 12:54 PM

I think that one is a key point for consideration.
North Korea is the only reason we have so much military there. Without a NorK threat, there’s no real reason for the US to be there.
China has already figured out the power of a capitalist economy, and South Korea is already a major trading partner with them, while North Korea is just a drain.
So a reunited Korea under South Korean government and economy would eliminate North Korea as a threat to anyone (so the US possibly leaves), and provides a more productive trading partner, with lots of cheap labor, for China.
China then becomes the hero of the region, and as a result the sole “big dog” in the region.

dentarthurdent on April 4, 2013 at 1:25 PM

dentarthurdent on April 4, 2013 at 1:25 PM

I don’t know about the “more productive trading partner” part of that. It’s going to take a lot of time and resources to get the North up to anywhere near the economic level of the South (several orders of magnitude more than reintegrating East Germany), and every bit of resource that is put into that is one that won’t be available for trade.

Of course, that furthers China’s goal of being the “big dog”.

Steve Eggleston on April 4, 2013 at 2:12 PM

Some Chinese academics have also begun questioning their country’s continued support for the North.

I met and studied with a number of PRC nationals in grad school. Every one of them thought North Korea was barbaric, and one of the biggest stumbling blocks to Sino-American relations…

JohnGalt23 on April 4, 2013 at 2:13 PM

I don’t know about the “more productive trading partner” part of that. It’s going to take a lot of time and resources to get the North up to anywhere near the economic level of the South (several orders of magnitude more than reintegrating East Germany), and every bit of resource that is put into that is one that won’t be available for trade.

Of course, that furthers China’s goal of being the “big dog”.

Steve Eggleston on April 4, 2013 at 2:12 PM

All the more reason for them to act on it. I could even see a Chinese version of the Marshall Plan, for reintegration of North Korea. They can afford it.

And it would be a step closer to regional hegemony for them…

JohnGalt23 on April 4, 2013 at 2:16 PM

And it would be a step closer to regional hegemony for them…

JohnGalt23 on April 4, 2013 at 2:16 PM

Exactly. And very good excuse for them to be able to tell the US to get lost – we don’t need you over here anymore.

dentarthurdent on April 4, 2013 at 2:28 PM

Exactly. And very good excuse for them to be able to tell the US to get lost – we don’t need you over here anymore.

dentarthurdent on April 4, 2013 at 2:28 PM

And 60 years after the end of hostilities on the Korean peninsula… about time.

JohnGalt23 on April 4, 2013 at 2:33 PM

I think it also gives China another “Hong Kong”. ROK is already a decent economic dynamo, and establishing trade routes that go into China directly (and Chinese trade routes out to a different port) will diversify their economies, strengthening them both.

GWB on April 4, 2013 at 2:43 PM

And 60 years after the end of hostilities on the Korean peninsula… about time.

JohnGalt23 on April 4, 2013 at 2:33 PM

Ya. I’d say it would be good for us to be able to cut the apron strings with South Korea – which is something we’ll never do as long as the NorKs are a threat.

dentarthurdent on April 4, 2013 at 2:48 PM

Ed, I realize that this is just one person’s view, but I have a good friend who lives in Guangzhou and has traveled abroad a lot more than most Chinese. He is an engineer, and spent a bit of time in South Korea and the DPRK so he is not ignorant about the region or the history of the Korean War. His basic view, in his words, is that the DPRK is the “most f___ed up country in the history of mankind”. I asked him how other people he knew and worked thought about the place. The answer was that anyone who can read and write know that the PRC is a virtual paradise compared to North Korea.

His view is also like mine. We are not in 1949 anymore. China uses North Korea to play off the Americans and Japanese, but needs the trade. If Phat Lil Kim continues down this warpath, the Chinese will force a coup d’etat and replace him with someone more to their liking. The last thing China wants is a horde of refugees pouring across its border. The second to last thing they want is a prosperous democratic ROK on their border. Look for regime change instigated by the Chinese if things get heated up more, but bear in mind the Chinese want to continue to be the puppet masters in North Korea.

simkeith on April 4, 2013 at 2:57 PM

simkeith on April 4, 2013 at 2:57 PM

Yep, that is where the smart money is going.

cozmo on April 4, 2013 at 3:03 PM

I’m not eager for another war, but, if it comes to that, we should try to make a deal with the Chinese: they agree to look the other way while we implode KJU’s regime, collect up his nuclear weapons, and bring back his head on a freakin’ pike; and then we agree to let them occupy North Korea and install whatever puppet regime they feel like.

That way, both sides get what they want: the Chinese get to retain North Korea as a buffer zone against the U.S. and ROK, and we can finally say good riddance to the Kim dynasty, while avoiding a lengthy boots-on-the-ground occupation of North Korea. (I think we’ve had enough of that sort of stuff the last ten years or so).

Hayabusa on April 4, 2013 at 3:34 PM

Does anyone else see this as a more sophisticated ‘Washington Monument’ maneuver than the carrier stay at home move a while ago?
Obama has told the Pentagon to go along with treating this DPRK seriously and he might let them off the hook for sequestration. He convinces the spineless repubs to let him raise taxes, then blames them for taking so long and putting the nation at risk. Win win for the permanent campainer.
The stealth bombers over the DMZ are what kicked off the anthill, to me that’s our first move in the charade. And then send out the latest State department actress to throw dust in our eyes. Sound familiar, Valerie?

sleepyhead on April 4, 2013 at 10:49 PM

Thing is, a prosperous, unified Korea would be a neutral kingdom that would probably be pro-Chinese and a strong trading partner. Prosperity would increase in Manchuria and along the northeastern coast markedly after several years of absorption of the North to Southern norms. Chinese companies would make a bundle during Northern Reconstruction.

Koreans would never take Japan’s side in a dispute because of the Occupation. And the Americans are too far away to matter.

victor82 on April 5, 2013 at 9:42 AM

I’ve been paying attention to foreign policy experts like Frank Gaffney, Bill Gertz and Gordan Chang.

They might take issue with your headline.

Verbally, the Chinese are doing what the headlines say, but the gents mentioned above have contacts within the organization.

Their belief is the Chinese have been ratcheting up their desires for a new dynasty. Stealing land from the Philippines, declaring sovereignty over the South China Sea and just plain cyberwarfare and economic warfare against the United States are just examples.

The Chinese government is in a state of flux with a guarantee the warmongering military will have more power.

The experts’ belief is the Chinese are really egging on the Norks in attempt to tweak the US and the other allies. They will find paper tigers.

Careful what we are talking about.

bumsteaddithers on April 5, 2013 at 9:45 AM

…Beijing resident Wu told CBS News… Cheng Xiaohe, an Associate Professor of International Relations at China’s Renmin University tells CBS New…Cheng says …

CBS is reporting the opinions of two people in China, out of 1.5 billion, as if they know for a fact they are widely held.

Imagine if a foreign news agency reported on the US like this, selecting, for example, a Chicago resident and a liberal social science professor from a second or third tier US university.

farsighted on April 5, 2013 at 10:05 AM

The experts’ belief is the Chinese are really egging on the Norks in attempt to tweak the US and the other allies. They will find paper tigers.

bumsteaddithers on April 5, 2013 at 9:45 AM

Rings true with me.

Comrade O’s very public saber rattling in response is actually a sign of uncertainty and weakness. That he is backing down after making that mistake makes it even worse.

The bad guys of the world are taking notes. Keep ratcheting up the pressure and Comrade O will start navel gazing and second guessing himself.

farsighted on April 5, 2013 at 10:15 AM