05 August 2017

News Report: China Won’t Be Reigning North Korea Any Time Soon - Analysts

North Korea experts said Tuesday that the US shouldn’t place too much faith in China reigning in Pyongyang, as Beijing is unlikely to move against the North unless their own economic or security interests are threatened.

That could mean that China continues to try to find some middle ground between maintaining calm on its border with North Korea as tension on the peninsula increases, and applying pressure on North Korea to curb its missile and nuclear activities as Washington tightens the screws.

Balbina Hwang, who served as special adviser on East Asian affairs under the George W. Bush administration, told The Korea Times that "China continues to support North Korea, both formally, and informally." Hwang is presently a visiting professor at the Center for Security Studies at Georgetown University.

Despite some analysts positing that China flip-flops on North Korea, Hwang doesn’t see Beijing’s stance as "ambivalent," suggesting instead that "China's harsh and aggressive stance toward South Korea about THAAD [the US-built and —operated Terminal High Altitude Area Defense system] is clear evidence that Beijing will not take the necessary actions to denuclearize North Korea because, ultimately, it is not China's priority goal."

China has vociferously protested the deployment of the controversial THAAD deployed in South Korea’s Seonjou county. Beijing says the system undermines its own security interests in the region. Some analysts believe the Chinese fear the system’s radar is not purely defensive and could be used to spy on their military activity. The US has denied this, saying the anti-missile system’s sole purpose is to fend off aggression from Pyongyang. 

"More important than the North's denuclearization is China's desire to maintain stability in Northeast Asia and to limit US influence in the Asia region," Hwang noted. 

In late July US President Donald Trump wrote on Twitter, "I am very disappointed in China. Our foolish past leaders have allowed them to make hundreds of billions of dollars a year in trade, yet they do NOTHING for us with North Korea, just talk. We will no longer allow this to continue. China could easily solve this problem!"

Frustrated by the criticism, China's UN Ambassador Liu Jieyi told reporters in late July that it is Pyongyang and Washington, not Beijing, which "hold the primary responsibility to keep things moving, to start moving in the right direction, not China." 

"No matter how capable China is, China's efforts will not yield practical results because it depends on the two principal parties," the ambassador said. 

Some analysts feel that Beijing was as rattled by Pyongyang’s July 4 ballistic missile launch as other nations, but may be more concerned with maintaining stability on the northeast border it shares with them and trying help maintain security within the reclusive nation. 

Despite the rancor, the US has recently expressed a desire to engage the North in talks, and in the past Trump has expressed a willingness to meet with supreme leader Kim Jong-un.

Experts doubt that Beijing will take any decisive action against North Korea even though it formally agreed to follow Washington’s lead when enacting sanctions.

"Despite the economic benefits China derives from trade and investment relations with South Korea, they do not trump China's priority of having a buffer state in North Korea," Pacific Forum CSIS adjunct fellow Tara O said.

O added that "China is afraid of potential irredentism from ethnic Koreans in northeast China, which would have repercussions elsewhere, such as Tibet and Xinjiang, and even Hong Kong … So China will continue supporting the Kim Jong-un regime until it feels the cost China bears is heavier than it's worth or there is a better option."

This story first appeared on Sputnik & is reposted here with permission.