News / Asia

Analysts: China's Relationship With North Korea Becoming Uneasy

North Korean leader Kim Jong Il, in light gray, and his son Kim Jong Un, center, look at a gift from Gen. Guo Boxiong, vice chairman of China's Central Military Commission, second left in front, in Pyongyang, North Korea, Oct 25, 2010 (file photo)
North Korean leader Kim Jong Il, in light gray, and his son Kim Jong Un, center, look at a gift from Gen. Guo Boxiong, vice chairman of China's Central Military Commission, second left in front, in Pyongyang, North Korea, Oct 25, 2010 (file photo)

Multimedia

Audio
TEXT SIZE - +

China has been a major player in the six-party talks aimed at persuading North Korea to give up its nuclear weapons program. The conventional wisdom is that China is North Korea's staunchest ally and greatest source of support in the international community.

Bruce Bennett, China expert with the RAND Corporation, said that economically, Beijing is Pyongyang's major supplier of food and energy.

"China is certainly propping up North Korea," said Bennett. "Just for subsistence living, North Korea requires something between five and five-and-a-half-million tons of grain -  mainly rice and corn - each year in order to feed its people. And that's just at a subsistence level. And North Korea is only producing about four million. So it's about 20 percent or so short and China makes up a fair amount of that deficit. They [the Chinese] also send consumer goods into the North, and about the only major thing they get back, they have bought up mineral rights, they have rights to a couple of ports on the Sea of Japan - but they don't get a lot of goods back from North Korea."

Allies and neighbors

The two countries also share a [1,360 kilometer] border, and there is a significant Korean minority population in northeast China.

Politically, since 2003, China has been the host of the six-party talks bringing together, in addition to Beijing, the United States, Russia, Japan, South Korea and North Korea. The aim of these negotiations is to persuade Pyongyang to eliminate its nuclear weapons capabilities. The talks are in limbo, however, and the members haven't met in more than a year.

Analysts say China also provides political cover to North Korea, especially at the United Nations.

"More importantly, if you go back to the case where North Korea sank a South Korean warship back in March, and China refused to recognize that in the U.N. discussions, and therefore made it impossible to take any serious action against North Korea in the U.N.," said Bennett.

Beijing Placates Pyongyang

Analysts say China also defended North Korea after Pyongyang fired artillery shells last month at a South Korean controlled island. Beijing urged calm and called for a return to the six-party talks - a proposal rejected by the United States, South Korea and Japan. They said they did not want to reward Pyongyang's aggressive actions.

Experts, such as Adam Segal from the Council on Foreign Relations, though, say despite Beijing's close economic and political ties to North Korea, the Chinese over the years have become more and more disheartened with Kim Jong-il's government.

"They've grown increasingly frustrated with what they saw as the erratic behavior of the Kim regime and constantly were trying to convince Kim that he could undergo economic reforms but still hold on to political power," said Segal. "So you saw these visits of Kim to Shanghai and Shenzen and [other] places in China. But the Chinese didn't really gather any traction on that."

Leverage in question

Many analysts ask the question: how much leverage does China have on North Korea to persuade it to give up its nuclear weapons program and end its aggressive behavior? President Barack Obama recently spoke to his Chinese counterpart, Hu Jintao, urging Beijing to send a clear message to Pyongyang saying that "its provocations are unacceptable."

Segal said the Chinese like to say they don't have as much leverage as the Americans think they do. "But the problem for the Chinese is that right now, they think they don't have anything between doing nothing and totally cutting North Korea off, which they are afraid would cause the collapse of North Korea. So they don't have any kind of leverage in between those two things, which means that they feel like they can't do anything."

Bennett said the Chinese see a collapse of North Korea as a disaster for them. "The Bank of South Korea has estimated that in a collapse, you could get three million refugees. And given the population distribution in North Korea, and allegiances, probably two, two and a half million of those would head towards the Chinese border - and that's a mass of people that China is unprepared to deal with."

Some analysts say China still has some leverage, especially in the economic sphere. But they also say Chinese leaders must figure out how much pressure they can exert and how far they can go before triggering instability in North Korea and potentially, an even greater crisis.

You May Like

Multimedia Anti-Keystone XL Protests Continue

Demonstrators are worried about pipeline's effect on climate change, their traditional way of life, health and safety More

Thailand's Political Power Struggle Continues

Court gave Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra until May 2 to prepare her defense over abuse of power charges but uncertainty remains over election timing More

Malaysia Plane Search Tests Limits of Ocean Mapping Technology

Expert tells VOA existing equipment’s maximum operating depth is around 6 kilometers as operation continues on ocean bed for any trace of MH370 More

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.
Pet Kangaroo Helps Spread Environmental Messagei
X
Penelope Poulou
April 22, 2014 5:53 PM
Children’s author Julia Heckathorn travels the world to learn about different ecosystems and endangered animals. She pours her knowledge into children’s books, hoping the next generation will right the environmental wrongs of our times. As in many children's books, the main character in Heckathorn's stories is an animal. Unlike those other characters, though, this one is real - a kangaroo, that lives in the author’s backyard. VOA’s Penelope Poulou has more.
Video

Video Pet Kangaroo Helps Spread Environmental Message

Children’s author Julia Heckathorn travels the world to learn about different ecosystems and endangered animals. She pours her knowledge into children’s books, hoping the next generation will right the environmental wrongs of our times. As in many children's books, the main character in Heckathorn's stories is an animal. Unlike those other characters, though, this one is real - a kangaroo, that lives in the author’s backyard. VOA’s Penelope Poulou has more.
Video

Video Pro-Russian Separatists Plan 'Federalization Referendum' in Eastern Ukraine

Pro-Russian separatists in eastern Ukraine say they plan to move forward next month with a referendum vote for greater autonomy, despite the Geneva agreement reached with Russia, the U.S. and Ukraine to end the political conflict. VOA's Brian Padden reports from the city of Donetsk in Eastern Ukraine.
Video

Video Pope Francis Hopes Dual Canonizations Will Reconcile Church

On April 27, two popes - John the XXIII and John Paul II - will be made saints in a ceremony at St. Peter’s Square. VOA religion correspondent Jerome Socolovsky says the dual canonization is part of the current pope’s program to reconcile liberals and conservatives in the Roman Catholic Church.
Video

Video In Capturing Nature's Majesty, Film Makes Case for Its Survival

French filmmaker Luc Jacquet won worldwide acclaim for his 2005 Academy Award-winning documentary "March of the Penguins". Now Jacquet is back with a new film that takes movie-goers deep into the heart of a tropical rainforest - not only to celebrate its grandeur, but to make the case for its survival. VOA's Rosanne Skirble reports.
Video

Video Boston Marathon Bittersweet for Many Runners

Monday's running of the Boston Marathon was bittersweet for many of the 36,000 participants as they finished the run that was interrupted by a double bombing last year. Many gathered along the route paid respect to the four people killed as a result of two bombings near the finish line. VOA's Carolyn Presutti returned to Boston this year to follow two runners, forever changed because of the crimes.
Video

Video International Students Learn Film Production in World's Movie Capital

Hollywood - which is part of Los Angeles - is the movie capital of the world, and many aspiring filmmakers go there in hopes of breaking into the movie business. Mike O'Sullivan reports that regional universities are also a magnet for students who hope to become producers or directors.
Video

Video Pacific Rim Trade Deal Proves Elusive

With the U.S.-led war in Iraq ended and American military involvement in Afghanistan winding down, President Barack Obama has sought to pivot the country's foreign policy focus towards Asia. One aspect of that pivot is the negotiation of a free-trade agreement among 12 Pacific Rim nations. But as Obama leaves this week on a trip to four Asian countries he has found it very difficult to complete the trade pact. VOA's Ken Bredemeier has more from Washington.
Video

Video Autistic Adults Face Housing, Job Challenges

Many parents of children with disabilities fear for the future of their adult child. It can be difficult to find services to help adults with disabilities - physical, mental or emotional - find work or live on their own. The mother of an autistic boy set up a foundation to advocate for the estimated 1.2 million American adults with autism, a developmental disorder that causes communication difficulties and often social difficulties. VOA's Faiza Elmasry reports.
AppleAndroid