Magazine article Newsweek

North Korea Is Losing China. Does It Have a Friend in Russia? China Is Losing Patience with the Dangerous Antics of North Korea's Kim Jong Un

Magazine article Newsweek

North Korea Is Losing China. Does It Have a Friend in Russia? China Is Losing Patience with the Dangerous Antics of North Korea's Kim Jong Un

Article excerpt

Byline: Benny Avni

Kim Jong Un is trying Beijing's patience.

While the increasingly volatile Kim tightens his grip in North Korea, doubts are arising in the region over whether China, the one country that has some sway over Pyongyang, can maintain its influence over the world's most dangerous regime for much longer.

Months after Kim executed Jang Song Thaek, his uncle, the purges at the top of Pyongyang's power structure seem to be intensifying, accompanied by a sharpening of the rhetoric. While North Korea threatens to test a new nuclear device--the fourth such provocation of its neighbors since 2006--China can barely hide its displeasure.

According to some reports from the region, Beijing's military is even making contingency plans for when Kim's regime collapses.

"China still has the most influence over North Korea in many ways, especially economic influence," the South Korean foreign minister, Yun Byung-se, told me recently. Beijing, he noted, "provides most of the energy and food" to the North.

Nevertheless, he added, Pyongyang sees itself as a "very independent nation." The North Koreans are "very proud. They don't like big powers. That means even big countries like China or Russia feel some limits to impose their views on North Korea."

Addressing the New York-based International Peace Institute last week, Yun highlighted Seoul's long-sought goal of Korean unification. Although "changing the two nameplates at the United Nations into one" would be much more difficult than the three-decade unification of the two Germanys, he said, it remains the best solution for the peninsula.

He told me afterward that the new South Korean government of President Park Geun-hye is promoting reunification more than its predecessors, which concentrated more on trying to reach an understanding with the North.

Yun came to New York to personally chair a Seoul-initiated United Nations meeting on the dangers of weapons of mass destruction being acquired by terrorist groups. Speaking in his role as Security Council rotating president in May, Yun dedicated much of his address to the menace that North Korea's missiles and its nuclear ambitions pose to the region and the world.

Then he warned North Korea of "serious consequences" if it conducts a fourth nuclear test, as has been widely predicted for weeks.

However, soon afterward North Korea's deputy U.N. ambassador, Ri Tong Il, took the floor and rambled on for 15 minutes, denouncing the evils of South Korea, Japan and the United States. Then, for the first time, he warned that "missile launches and nuclear tests, in the interest of self-defense, will become [an] annual [event]."

Ri's microphone was later cut off by the presiding South Korean diplomat, who noted that Ri had far exceeded the allotted four-minute time slot for non-council members.

In a sign of exasperation at such bellicose shenanigans by its client North Korean regime, China has recently toughened the tone of its own statements about nuclear testing. In the past, Beijing has allowed three Security Council resolutions demanding the North dismantle its nuclear program in a "complete, verifiable and irreversible manner" to pass.

But even as the Security Council conducted its meeting in New York last week, officials in Beijing were busy shooting down a report by Japan's widely respected Kyodo News that China is preparing contingency plans to come to the aid of North Korea in the event of the Kim regime's collapse.

According to Kyodo, which said it based its reporting on leaked documents from China's People's Liberation Army, China started to draw up these doomsday plans last summer. …

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