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China Hopes for Stability After N. Korea Execution

North Korean subway commuters gather around a public newspaper stand on the train platform in Pyongyang, North Korea, Dec. 13, 2013 to read the headlines about Jang Song Thaek, North Korean leader Kim Jong Un's uncle who was executed.
Chinese officials have declined to say if they have been in contact with Pyongyang about the execution of Kim Jong Un's uncle.

At China's foreign ministry briefing Friday, authorities described the reported execution of Jang Song Thaek as North Korea's “internal affairs.”

Spokesman Hong Lei says as North Korea's neighbor, Beijing hopes to see stability and people living in happiness.

The execution sent shockwaves through the North Korean elite and has the potential to upset the regime’s relations with its next door neighbor and historical ally, China.

Before his abrupt fall from power, Jang played a key role in North Korea's economy, overseeing the special economic zones where foreign companies use North Korean workers in their factories.

The sharply worded article in North Korea's state media that accused him of treason also said he personally profited from deals with outside countries in the Rason special economic zone. It also accused him of being bribed by enemies.

Strained ties

China’s Foreign Ministry spokesman commented on the announcement by saying the two countries economic ties are mutually beneficial and China hopes to deepen their business relations going forward.

Bilateral ties have been strained since North Korea conducted an underground nuclear test last spring. But the country remains Pyongyang's most important ally, and economic links between the two remain critical for the impoverished North Korean government.

Daniel Pinkston, deputy director for Northeast Asia at the International Crisis Group, says there is data showing China has acquired resources in North Korea at below market value.

Speaking to VOA via Skype, he says the execution of Jang Song Thaek will likely throw North Korea’s business deals with China, and other countries, into disarray.

“The next person to come into run these operations that Jang had been running, I think will be under orders to renegotiate the contracts and renegotiate the prices, but of course the Chinese businessmen on the other side will want to fulfill the contracts they’ve already signed, so this will, so this will damage the poor reputation that North Korea already has, and it will have a negative impact on their ability to conduct international business,” said Pinkston.

China has long provided an economic aid to North Korea as well as much of the country’s food aid. Exports from China to North Korea totaled $590 million last year.