China: Keeping North Korea under control isn't our problem

I wouldn’t call this a total abdication of their responsibilities (at least not yet) but the grumbling coming out of China this week over the situation on the Korean peninsula certainly sounds as if they’re growing exasperated. China’s Foreign Ministry is now openly saying that other countries aren’t doing enough to keep Kim Jong-un under control and they can’t be expected to carry all the weight on this one. Really? Yes… really. (Washington Post)

China says it shouldn’t be held responsible for resolving the North Korean nuclear standoff alone and is accusing other countries of shirking their responsibilities in the effort to reduce tensions.

Foreign ministry spokesman Geng Shuang told reporters Tuesday that China was upholding its obligations under United Nations resolutions while other countries were fanning the crisis and harming their own interests…

Geng said China was being unfairly singled out and that others were guilty of washing their hands of the matter, burning bridges and stabbing others in the back.

To a certain extent, Geng is telling the truth, but only when we look at very recent history. China has been doing a better job and cooperating with international agreements and putting at least some pressure on North Korea. But when we consider precisely how much direct influence they have on Kim it’s difficult to imagine what constitutes anyone else “washing their hands” of the matter or failing to act. We’ve passed so many sanctions at this point and cut off so much of the former aid going to the North that there’s not much left to cut. What’s left beyond that unless we’re talking about direct military intervention? (And that’s not something China wants to see on their doorstep, I assure you.)

But swinging back to what I said above about this being a recent state of affairs, China seems to be intentionally ignoring their own history. Back in 2013 the Chinese had the opportunity to do something substantive after North Korea began aggressively ramping up their nuclear weapons testing and missile programs. Instead, they paid lip service to the latest detonation, joining in with other major nations in condemning it, but were reluctant to do more than that. (CNN)

“The Chinese don’t like the idea of international sanctions and coercing other countries,” Chinoy said. “They still have a strategic interest in maintaining a viable separate North Korea as a buffer against a pro-U.S. South Korea, and that has only become more important as tensions between the U.S. and China have increased.”

Recent opinion articles published in the state-run Chinese newspaper Global Times suggested Beijing’s patience with North Korea may be wearing thin and raised the prospect of reducing support to Pyongyang.

But with fears in Beijing of what a possible collapse of the North Korean regime could bring, strong measures appear unlikely for the time being.

Let’s face the facts here. China has always had (and continues to have) the best ability to put a leash on Kim Jong-un. But they wanted their “buffer zone” between a westernized South Korea and their own border. When other nations were finally getting serious about sanctions and cutting off aid, China was still buying their coal and shipping them most of their food. Simply clucking their tongues at North Korea while enabling their bad behavior was not only not enough, it likely also served as an unspoken seal of approval for the regime.

Bailing out on their responsibility now is thin gruel. We’ve let the problem grow to the point where we are potentially on the verge of a ruinous war and China is the one who could have headed this situation off at the pass at any time over the past decade. They need to step up now and use the influence they still have left to avert disaster. True, they claim to have stopped buying coal from them a few months ago. But as recently as this April the Chinese admitted that their trade with the North Koreans in other areas has actually increased, including purchases of raw minerals, seafood, textiles and clothing. That gives Kim a lot of cash to play with. The Chinese could shut Kim Jong-un down cold if they really wanted to, but they’re still not doing it. And if we have to solve the problem for them it’s going to be a bloody mess.