The view from China could hardly be much worse: the leaders of North Korea and the United States threatening to rain down total destruction on each other, while U.S. bombers and fighters stage a show of military might close to China’s shores. Behind closed doors, experts said Beijing is as frustrated with North Korea, and with the situation, as it has ever been.
As North Korea’s dominant trading partner, China is widely seen as the key to solving the crisis, yet experts say its influence over Pyongyang has never been weaker.
“The North Koreans have figured out that the Chinese are genuinely in a bind,” said Euan Graham, director of the International Security Program at the Lowy Institute in Sydney. “Having cried wolf for so long about having limited influence, the Chinese genuinely do have limited influence in North Korea right now. It’s not just weasel words.”
China is not prepared to do anything that might bring down the North Korean regime, potentially bringing refugees streaming across its border and unifying the Korean Peninsula under a U.S.-friendly government. North Korea’s leaders, experts in brinkmanship, know that full well, and this knowledge has allowed them to call China’s bluff repeatedly.
Chinese President Xi Jinping has never met Kim Jong-un, and the two men are thought to hold each other in contempt. China’s attempts to send an envoy to Pyongyang to calm the situation have been rebuffed. So while Seoul cooperates with Washington, Pyongyang is freezing out Beijing.
[The Washington Post]