By John Stang
The question arises about how the U.S. can handle North Korea after the death of Kim Jong-il. One argument is that the real decision will not lye with the North Korean government, but with China. Robert Dreyfus at the Nation says:
If anyone knows, it’s China. The late Kim earned frequent-flyer points back and forth to China, and he made a point of introducing his son to Chinese leaders. China has a huge stake in North Korea, but although Beijing won’t be a friend of democratization there, to put it mildly, above all China wants stability and urgently wants to avoid conflict. In that it has common interests with the United States, which means that the United States needs China.
As Robert Carlin, a Stanford University fellow who travels to North Korea, told the New York Times:
“At this moment, China might provide the best chance of stability. They want to be the best informed and have a modicum of influence and have people consulting with them at his moment. The rest of us are deaf, dumb and blind and with our arms tied behind our backs.”
At Foreign Policy, Adrian Hong says the U.S. must go right to the source of North Korea’s stability, aka China, to solve the problem:
A central piece to the puzzle, and to any future destiny of North Korea, is China, its patron state and lone, true ally. China is not married to North Korea’s leadership or political system. It is simply looking out for its own interest and leveraging North Korea’s misbehavior for increased political capital. The solution here is straightforward: cut a deal with China. Beijing is hedging, in characteristic fashion, much like the Imperial court did centuries before. Whenever China’s dynasties invaded a neighboring kingdom, they would simply extract fealty and annual tribute, and largely leave the neighbor alone to its own affairs — with the collateral of bringing heirs to the throne back to China to intermarry and remain under Chinese protection or control.
Apparently, China also notices this fact. Bloomberg reports:
Editorials in state-run Chinese newspapers yesterday stressed the need for a stable leadership transition, with the Global Times saying China should be “a powerful and secure backer for a smooth transition of power.” The newspaper suggested that high-level Chinese leaders visit North Korea to maintain “close communication” with its new leadership.
“Pyongyang’s commitment to peace and stability in the Korean Peninsula is in its own interests and best serves its regional responsibilities,” a China Daily editorial said.
China is expressing its support for Kim Jong Un to make sure it maintains its influence over the regime in Pyongyang, which is increasingly dependent on China for political and economic support, said Willy Wo-Lap Lam, a professor at the Chinese University of Hong Kong, in an e-mail.