April 7, 2013

China: Public Frenemy # 1

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China is the quintessential “frenemy.” Without China’s economic support, the US economy would suffer. However, China’s rapidly expanding economy and global expansion poses a serious threat to US hegemonic power. Furthermore, China’s foreign policy interests often come into direct conflict with those of the United States. One of the most obvious, and controversial, example of this is China’s alliance with North Korea.

In recent months, North Korea has embarked on an aggressive military agenda. The goal: to become a nuclear nation. It is whether or not it will even be possible for North Korea to successfully develop, test, and deploy a weapon of mass destruction before the international community becomes more involved. Still, the United States has spearheaded action, with the support of the United Nations, to try and prevent this occurrence with any means necessary. The repercussions on global stability and safety of a nuclear armed North Korea would be devastating.

China is a long-time ally of North Korea – the origins of the relationship date back to the Korean War. However, no one is safe from the chaos that would ensue should North Korea succeed in harnessing nuclear power. China, geographically much closer to North Korea, has countless reasons to fear the North Korean nuclear weapons mission. This puts the Chinese government in precarious position.

China acts as North Korea’s largest trading partner and provides the destitute country with aid. North Korea’s significant dependence on Chinese support makes it in their strategic interest to appease Beijing.  Therefore, it is commonly thought that China enjoys considerable (or at least some) influence over Pyongyang. However, nuclear weapons may prove too big a temptation for the erratic Kim Jong-un to pass up. Kim Jong-un has explicitly stated that nuclear power is among the country’s “top priorities”.

Many in the West believe that China will begin to show a “tougher line” with North Korea. Beijing has publically expressed discontent at the reopening of the North Korean nuclear plant, Yongbyon. Domestically, there has been freer discussion surrounding the merits of the Chinese-North Korean alliance than ever before. Notable Chinese journalist Deng Yuwen was suspended for publishing an article in The Financial Times arguing that supporting North Korea was not in China’s best interest.  Zhu Feng, a professor at Peking University notes that North Korean nuclear tests may force Beijing to adjust its foreign policy stance.

Still, the CCP maintains that China and North Korea remain “as close as lips and teeth”, at least for the time being. Though the radical action and rhetoric of North Korea causes undue diplomatic difficulty for the Chinese, the Communist Party is not willing to sever the alliance.

Original Author: Monica Sharma