As the world waits to see if North Korea will follow through on threats to conduct a third nuclear test, VOA spoke with Professor Jin Canrong at China’s Renmin University’s School of International Studies about the state of relations between Beijing and Pyongyang. Professor Canrong says China’s relations with North Korea have deteriorated since Pyongyang's long-range rocket launch in December, and could further worsen should the North carry out its nuclear test.
Q: North Korea recently announced that it will carry on with nuclear tests, and that it will not negotiate on denuclearization. How do these pronouncements fit into China's position in regards to the Korean peninsula?
"These points that North Korea has made, that there won't be six party talks, that denuclearization is not up to negotiation, and that negotiation will only be on regional security are in contrast with China's position. So from the look of it, we can see that China and North Korea hold two very different positions."
Q: What impact would a third nuclear test have on China North-Korea relations?
"In view of technical and political consideration, North Korea will inevitably go ahead with the test. China opposes it, but still North Korea for its reasons will have to do it. That is why I think that [a test] will bring a big harm to the future of China relations with North Korea. I think that after the third test, China will take some sort of measure, but to what extent, we do not know at the moment.
The reason why China would take some measure is that our positions are different, we sincerely want denuclearization in the peninsula, and also we are a member of the UN Security Council. We have passed the resolution number 2087, we have promised that if North Korea were to take actions against the resolution, a resolution that the Security Council calls an 'important resolution,' then as members we have to respond."
Q: How would China respond to a third nuclear test by North Korea?
"The response can include different nature of actions, but I think that it would be economic first, then political, then military. China at the moment thinks that military measures are not good, so it would not take military action. But it might respond by economic and political means. For example have cold diplomatic relations, reduce relations to a lower rank, decrease trade and economic cooperation. . . North Korea's weak spot now is the economy and China's economic measures towards North Korea have very strong effect. So I believe that in the event of a third nuclear test China would take some action on the economic front."
Q: How have relations between China and North Korea changed in the past few months?
"In the last half of 2012, problems started. His [Kim Jong un] outlook is still like his father's, which is to put military first as a policy. There are some changes on the economic front, but they are very limited, they are not very substantial. So there was a feeling of disappointment [in China]. Up until December when they announced that they would launch the satellite, and everyone thought they were launching a missile. China was very disappointed."
Q: How does the new Chinese leadership view North Korea's recent actions?
"There is unhappiness among the new leadership because we have just had our Congress, the new leaders really need foreign relations to be stable and use their utmost to solve domestic problems. Because at the moment China's domestic problems are very severe, the economy is slowing down, social unrest, and also the new leadership after it takes power needs to harmonize all sorts of relations [domestically], and also recently this smog, environmental problems. There are too many problems for the leadership, they do not want to have problems abroad."
Q: A recent editorial on the nationalistic newspaper "Global Times" called for stronger actions against North Korea, do you think that the views expressed in that op-ed mirror the stance of some leaders in China?
"At the moment opinions differ a lot in China as to its position with North Korea. I divide the opinions into two factions, the traditionalists and the revisionists. Now the power of the two is equal, so that means that there is a deadlock. The highest leaders in China at the moment are undecided, hesitant. They are technocrats, they are different than the previous leaders like Deng Xiaoping or Mao Zedong, where they had a resolute point of view. Once they had a view and they did not care about what the subordinates thought they would just act on their point of view. But these technocrats do not have a point of view of their own, they wait for the [subordinates] to come to a agreed judgment and then they act. So as long as the different factions are quarreling, there is no agreed judgment, so the technocrats don't do anything."