When China celebrates its World War II “victory day” in a spectacular parade of military might Thursday, President Xi Jinping’s “true friends” will be there.
That includes Xi’s closest Korean friend. Not Kim Jong Un, the leader of North Korea, a country once described as being “as close as lips and teeth” with China.
No, it’s South Korean President Park Geun-hye who will be in attendance as 10,000 Chinese troops march through Tiananmen Square and fighter jets roar overhead, celebrating the Allies’ victory on the 70th anniversary of the end of World War II.
Kim Jong Un also didn’t attend the equivalent celebrations in May in Russia, North Korea’s other main ally, prompting speculation that the scion of a personality cult didn’t want to share the spotlight with other world leaders for his first overseas foray.
That same logic could apply in the case of China’s commemorations. Or, it could be the latest sign of the political chill between the neighbors.
The bonds between the countries weakened over the decades as China opened up and North Korea resolutely did not. But the cracks turned into chasms at the last change of leadership, with Kim succeeding his father at the end of 2011 and Xi becoming the leader of China about a year later.
“In the past, North Korea was like a dog that we raised. China could just feed it some meat and it would behave and listen to us,” said a taxi driver here in Yanji who gave only his family name, Cui. “But now the dog has turned into a wolf and it bites. It doesn’t listen to China anymore. Meat won’t keep it under control.”