When a retired Chinese general with impeccable Communist Party credentials recently wrote a scathing account of North Korea, as a recalcitrant ally headed for collapse and unworthy of support, he exposed a roiling debate in China about how to deal with the country’s young leader, Kim Jong-un.
For decades China has stood by North Korea, and though at times the relationship has soured, it has rarely reached such a low point, Chinese analysts say. The fact that the commentary by Lt. Gen. Wang Hongguang, a former deputy commander of an important military region, was published in a state-run newspaper and then posted on an official People’s Liberation Army website attested to how much the relationship had deteriorated, the analysts say.
“China has cleaned up the D.P.R.K.’s mess too many times,” General Wang wrote in The Global Times. Of the government in North Korea, he said: “If an administration isn’t supported by the people, ‘collapse’ is just a matter of time.” Moreover, North Korea had violated the spirit of the mutual defense treaty with China, he said, by failing to consult China on its nuclear weapons program, which has created instability in Northeast Asia.
A Chinese official who is closely involved in China’s diplomacy with North Korea said that General Wang’s disparaging attitude was more prevalent in the Chinese military today than in any previous period. “General Wang’s views really reflect the views of many Chinese—and within the military views are varied,” said the official, who declined to be named because of the sensitivity of the matter.