North Korea’s biggest nuclear test, conducted last week less than 50 miles from the Chinese border, sent tremors through homes and schools in China’s northeast. But hours later, there was no mention of the test on China’s state-run evening television news, watched by hundreds of millions of viewers.
Although North Korea remains nearly 100 percent dependent on China for oil and food, Chinese analysts say that Beijing will not modify its allegiance to North Korea or pressure the country to curtail its drive for a full-fledged nuclear arsenal, as the United States keeps requesting.
China sees living with a Communist-ruled nuclear-armed state on its border as preferable to the chaos of its collapse, says Shi Yinhong, a professor of international relations at Renmin University in Beijing. The Chinese leadership is confident that North Korea would not turn its weapons on China, and that China would be able to control its neighbor by providing enough oil to keep its economy afloat.
The alternative is a strategic nightmare for Beijing: a collapsed North Korean regime, millions of refugees piling into China, and a unified Korean Peninsula under an American defense treaty.
The Obama administration’s decision to deploy an advanced missile defense system THAAD in South Korea also gives President Xi Jinping of China less incentive to cooperate with Washington on a North Korea strategy that could aim, for example, to freeze the North’s nuclear capacity, the analysts said. THAAD has effectively killed any chance of China cooperating with the United States, they said. Beijing interprets the THAAD deployment as another American effort to contain China.
“China is strongly opposed to North Korea’s nuclear weapons but at the same time opposes the defense system in South Korea,” said Cheng Xiaohe, an assistant professor of international relations at Renmin University. It was not clear which situation the Chinese leadership was most agitated about, he said.
The longstanding fear that punitive economic action would destabilize North Korea makes it unlikely that Beijing would cooperate with the United States on more stringent sanctions at the United Nations, according to Chinese analysts.
So despite what Chinese analysts describe as the government’s distaste for Kim Jong Un and his unpredictable behavior, China’s basic calculus on North Korea remains firm. Mr. Xi would continue to ensure that North Korea remained stable.
[New York Times]