What influence will China’s new leader exert on North Korea?

Chosun Ilbo projects that China’s new leader Xi Jinping is unlikely to change the country’s relationship with North Korea drastically, but experts predict Xi could push for specific reform plans and greater market opening. “They will ask North Korea for more specific and tangible reforms and market-opening measures than in the Hu Jintao era,” said Choo Jae-woo at Kyunghee University.

“Beijing believes it is important to stabilize North Korea and halt its nuclear ambitions to benefit China’s economic growth,” said Park Byung-kwang at the Institute for National Security Strategy. “China thinks it is possible to stabilize North Korea and resolve the nuclear dilemma over the long-term by strengthening economic cooperation.”

North Korea is finding it increasingly difficult to ignore China’s demands. The North’s dependence on China for trade rose from 52 percent in 2005 to 84 percent last year. And 90 percent of the crude oil North Korea uses comes from China.

North Korean leader Kim Jong-un is expected to visit China and meet Xi as soon as possible. Some forecast a visit to China by Kim as early as January. He will also be looking for handouts from China ahead of the birthdays of former leader Kim Jong-il (Feb. 16) and nation founder Kim Il-sung (April 15).

Chinese experts have said that Beijing’s influence on the stubborn North Korean military is limited. If on the other hand China’s relationship with the U.S. worsens, North Korea’s strategic value increases. “China-North Korea relations will be closely related to China-U.S. relations, inter-Korean relations and China-South Korea relations,” said a diplomatic source.