News

China's Influence Over North Korea in Question

Barry Newhouse

North Korea's weapons programs are expected to dominate Friday's regional security forum in Malaysia. But as diplomats look to China to promote flexibility by its communist neighbor North Korea, the United States and its allies are wondering how much political and economic influence Beijing really has over decision-making in Pyongyang. As VOA's Barry Newhouse reports from Beijing, the answer may be, not very much.

The United Nations says in a July report that China was the world's third-largest food donor in 2005. China gave 577,000 metric tons to the U.N.'s World Food Program last year - and 92 percent of that, 531,000 tons, was earmarked for the impoverished and isolated North Korea.

In fact, analysts have estimated that China supplies a third of North Korea's total food donations, and as much as 70 to 90 percent of its fuel aid. It is also North Korea's number-one trading partner. The South Korean government, which studies its northern neighbor carefully, says Sino-North Korean trade rose 14 percent in 2005, to a record of more than $1.5 billion.

All this as Pyongyang's other sources of economic aid are drying up. Japan, the North's second-largest trading partner up to 2001, has cut its trade and imposed sanctions on Pyongyang. South Korea suspended its sizable food aid after Pyongyang defied international warnings and test-fired seven missiles on July 5.

So China's importance to North Korea would seem to give Beijing no small amount of influence over decision-making in Pyongyang. But analysts, such as Professor Andrei Lankov of the Australian National University, say that China's sway is limited.

"Right now in the summer of 2006, I think the actual Chinese ability to influence decision-making processes and the foreign policy of North Korea is very low," he said.

Beijing had joined other nations in warning North Korea against the missile tests. Shortly after the North's launches, the Chinese then sent a high-level delegation to Pyongyang to ask North Korea to return to six-party talks on its nuclear weapons programs, which China has hosted since 2003.

In both cases, Pyongyang rebuffed the requests of its ally and benefactor.

That led Assistant Secretary of State Christopher Hill, the top U.S. negotiator at the six-party talks, to question whether China has the ability to influence North Korea after all.

Professor Yan Xuetong of Qinghua University in Beijing says it is a good question.

"China's investment in North Korea and the economic relations between the two countries has indeed been increasing. However, China's political influence on North Korea obviously has not kept up with it," he said. "I think this is a common phenomenon after the Cold War. Economic relations don't necessarily mean that the political relations of the two countries will be good or one has more political influence on the other."

Still, China has a vested interest in preserving leader Kim Jong Il's North Korea. The Chinese fear that a regime collapse in the North could send huge numbers of refugees flooding across the border into Northeastern China.

As Australian National University's Andrei Lankov says, that is a burden Beijing does not need.

"Of course they would be very happy to have some control over decision-making processes in Pyongyang. However on that case, they are probably quite satisfied in preventing North Korea's collapse," he said.

That is for now. But the future Sino-North Korea relationship may shift if Pyongyang continues to defy international diplomatic overtures. Shi Yinhong, a professor at the People's University of China, says there are signs the Chinese leadership recognizes a need to change policies.

"In the last three years, China has almost solely favored a soft approach to persuade North Korea," he said. "This method may have prevented some dangerous situations but it has been proved comparatively ineffective in terms of achieving a nuclear-free Korea and preventing North Korea from firing missiles."

During the Cold War, China and North Korea maintained a united front in public. But analysts say their shared communist ideology no longer ties them together.

Ralph Cossa, of the Center for Strategic and International Security in Hawaii, says Beijing recognizes its future is more closely tied to South Korea - which, like China, is a growing economic power.

"I think the Chinese believe at the end of the day that the prize on the Korean Peninsula is not North Korea, but South Korea. But right now the Chinese at least want to keep the North Koreans propped up, as they continue to work on increasing their influence with the South," he said.

Professor Ken Boutin of Australia's Deacon University predicts China's strong relations with South Korea, will eventually override its obligations to Pyongyang.

"I think in the long-term, China has no commitment to the North Korean regime, or the governing system there," he said.

Experts seem to agree that China will continue to be North Korea's most important foreign partner as it keeps trying to promote stability in the region. But with waning influence with the North and China's global economic interests at stake, experts suggest Beijing is bound to shift its focus away from its isolated communist neighbor. The two nations are no longer, as they once boasted, "as close as lips and teeth."

This forum has been closed.
Comments
     
There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Olympics Construction Scars Sacred Korean Mountaini
X
July 02, 2015 4:10 AM
Environmentalists in South Korea are protesting a Winter Olympics construction project to build a ski slope through a 500-year-old protected forest. Brian Padden reports that although there is strong national support for hosting the 2018 Pyeongchang Winter Olympics, there are growing public concerns over the costs and possible ecological damage at the revered mountain.
Video

Video Olympics Construction Scars Sacred Korean Mountain

Environmentalists in South Korea are protesting a Winter Olympics construction project to build a ski slope through a 500-year-old protected forest. Brian Padden reports that although there is strong national support for hosting the 2018 Pyeongchang Winter Olympics, there are growing public concerns over the costs and possible ecological damage at the revered mountain.
Video

Video Xenophobia Victims in South Africa Flee Violence, Then Return

Many Malawians fled South Africa early this year after xenophobic attacks on African immigrants. But many quickly found life was no better at home and have returned to South Africa – often illegally and without jobs, and facing the tough task of having to start over. Lameck Masina and Anita Powell file from Johannesburg.
Video

Video Family of American Marine Calls for Release From Iranian Prison

As the crowd of journalists covering the Iran talks swells, so too do the opportunities for media coverage.  Hoping to catch the attention of high-level diplomats, the family of American-Iranian marine Amir Hekmati is in Vienna, pleading for his release from an Iranian prison after nearly 4 years.  VOA’s Heather Murdock reports from Vienna.
Video

Video UK Holds Terror Drill as MPs Mull Tunisia Response

After pledging a tough response to last Friday’s terror attack in Tunisia, which came just days before the 10th anniversary of the bomb attacks on London’s transport network, British security services are shifting their focus to overseas counter-terror operations. VOA's Henry Ridgwell has more.
Video

Video Obama on Cuba: This is What Change Looks Like

President Barack Obama says the United States will soon reopen its embassy in Cuba for the first time since 1961, ending a half-century of isolation. VOA White House correspondent Luis Ramirez reports.
Video

Video Hate Groups Spread Influence Via Internet

Hate groups of various kinds are using the Internet for propaganda and recruitment, and a Jewish human rights organization that monitors these groups, the Simon Wiesenthal Center, says their influence is growing. The messages are different, but the calls to hatred or violence are similar. VOA's Mike O’Sullivan reports.
Video

Video US Silica Sand Mining Surge Worries Illinois Residents, Businesses

Increased domestic U.S. oil and gas production, thanks to advances known as “fracking,” has created a boom for other industries supporting that extraction. Demand for silica sand, used in fracking, could triple over the next five years. In the Midwest state of Illinois, people living near the mines are worried about how increased silica sand mining will affect their businesses and their health. VOA’s Kane Farabaugh has more in this first of a series of reports.
Video

Video Blind Somali Journalist Defies Odds in Mogadishu

Despite improving security in the last few years, Somalia remains one of the most dangerous countries to be a journalist – even more so for someone who cannot see. Abdulaziz Billow has the story of journalist Abdifatah Hassan Kalgacal, who has been reporting from the Somali capital for the last decade despite being blind.
Video

Video Texas Defies Same-Sex Marriage Ruling

Texas state officials have criticized the US Supreme Court decision giving same-sex couples the right to marry nationwide. The attorney general of Texas says last week's decision did not overrule constitutional "rights of religious liberty," and therefore officials performing wedding services can refuse to perform them for same-sex couples if it is against their religious beliefs. Zlatica Hoke reports on the controversy.
Video

Video Rabbi Hits Road to Heal Jewish-Muslim Relations in France

France is on high alert after last week's terrorist attack near the city Lyon, just six months after deadly Paris shootings. The attack have added new tensions to relations between French Jews and Muslims. France’s Jewish and Muslim communities also share a common heritage, though, and as far as one French rabbi is concerned, they are destined to be friends. From the Paris suburb of La Courneuve, Lisa Bryant reports about Rabbi Michel Serfaty and his friendship bus.
Video

Video Saudi Leaks Expose ‘Checkbook Diplomacy’ In Battle With Iran

Saudi Arabia’s willingness to wield its oil money on the global diplomatic stage appears to have been laid bare, after the website WikiLeaks published tens of thousands of leaked cables from Riyadh’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs. VOA's Henry Ridgwell reports.
Video

Video In Kenya, Police Said to Shoot First, Ask Questions Later

An organization that documents torture and extrajudicial killings says Kenyan police were responsible for 1,252 shooting deaths in five cities, including Nairobi, between 2009 and 2014, representing 67 percent of all gun deaths in the areas reviewed. Gabe Joselow has more from Nairobi.

VOA Blogs