North Korea the problem child of Asia

Despite needing Beijing more than anyone else, North Korea, the nuclear-armed problem child of Asia, has frozen out its only real friend.

China’s new ambassador, the high-flying diplomat Li Jinjun, was appointed in mid-March yet has not met North Korea’s leader Kim Jong-un nor had his credentials accepted. It is an unprecedented snub from the hermit kingdom to its powerful friend – and the latest sign of a growing impulsivity that has Korea watchers and seasoned diplomats deeply worried.

Stability under the 32-year-old Kim, who took power in late 2011, is shakier than it has been in a long time, prompting fears the Korean peninsula could crumble in ways that cannot be predicted or managed at a time when the region has enough flashpoints to worry about. Speaking of Kim Jong-un, one seasoned Asian diplomat commented, “Kim’s father and grandfather were as tough as you can get, they were ruthless dictators, but they were not reckless. This guy has the same brutality but with more recklessness.”

Determined to stamp his ruthless authority, Kim has shrugged off Beijing’s restraining hand and embarked on bloody purges. This included the execution of his own uncle, Jang Song-thaek, the final straw for Beijing because Jang was the point man on economic co-operation between the two countries. The purges have escalated in recent months.

Pyongyang also abruptly cancelled a planned visit by UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon – which would have been the first by a UN leader since 1993. Three weeks earlier, Kim cancelled a planned visit to Moscow – reportedly annoying Vladimir Putin.

China’s biggest worry is that North Korea will collapse and unify with the south in a democratic, pro-Washington state. While Kim’s brutality is probably making some North Korean elites jittery, nobody is game to predict an internal collapse just yet.

[Sydney Morning Herald]

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