How Should China Treat North Korea?

So I feel pretty bad about getting us GFWed. If, in fact, it was me.

Readers of my other blog have already seen this, our translation of blogger Zhang Wen and some Chinese netizens’ thoughts on how China should deal with the DPRK in the wake of the rather unassailable evidence that it was, in fact, a North Korean submarine that attacked and sunk a South Korean warship in March, killing 46 sailors.

China’s relationship with North Korea has always been a point of contention with the West, but the DPRK’s recent brazen aggressiveness may be difficult for China to explain away. Given its veto power on the UN Security Council, China can block international efforts to punish North Korea if it chooses, but with 46 lives lost in an unprovoked military attack, the diplomatic cost of such a maneuver would be higher than China may be interested in paying.

Beijing is trapped in the middle, with much-needed trading partners on one side and an old ally on the other. As the North and South of the Korean peninsula gear up for war, China potentially has the power to resolve the situation peacefully. But will they?

[polldaddy poll=3241579]


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  1. Jones

    I’m not clear on what benefit China gets from North Korea. I know it got some benefit in the past, but now what?

    North Korea seems like nothing but a huge liability to China. They don’t really need it as a trading partner. It’ll be a buffer state for them regardless of them being allied or not. North Korea has a history of being ridiculous, what with blowing up a civilian airliner or shooting at things, then bleat about how anyone even mentioning it is causing an “act of war”. It’s like some even more retarded school shooter attacking it’s classmates in a last-ditch desperate plea for attention.

    China doesn’t need that liability and should look at the situation with a little more rationale rather than an inability to give up this old high school sweetheart.

    Case in point:

    • B-real

      Who do you thing makes Chinese crap for the Chinese?

      I don’t really know if that is true. I read somewhere a long time ago that North Korea makes anything and everything for the Chinese and any one who is ok buying North Korean made products.

    • B-real

      Who ever made that video was an ass hole but it was fauking hilarious. Thanks Jones

    • Jones

      China today has plenty of resources as far as relations with other countries. Losing North Korea as an ally wouldn’t be a big deal these days. China’s industrial power is a lot better than it use to be, China has new friends elsewhere in the world (although not as close as North Korea, but they could get resources and whatnot).

      Haha, my pleasure. Yeah, that guy makes a bunch of videos like that. Covers a broad range of different countries/races/cultures. It’s good for a laugh so long as one can take a joke about their own “kind”.

      • friendo

        China’s main interest in NK is well, not seeing it collapse suddenly, destroying SK and doing significant damage to Northeast China, not to mention totally unpredictable results for Japan and the US.

    • Brother, that was just precious! I’m passing it on.

  2. Abandon DPRK, support UN sanctions… alliances don’t last forever; better to lose an alliance that get dragged into something you don’t want to be involved in.

  3. Any of you smackers heard of the PLA-N.K defection program,

    A while ago Kim promoted alot of officers to General,

    it was a seriouslly high ratio, between grunts and gens, so it caused a wide spread defection,

    the PLA arranged networks for alot of these officers to come to the PLA, this was all done under the radar,


  4. bai ren

    and the allaince between dprk and burma… in 无毛 language Mianmar differ in what way? these satallite states serves as models just as well as hk or shanghai or ever dalian. they are places where methodes are tried out on populations. if/when the socialist state realizes it has accomplished the capitalist road and reembarks on its mission to become a socialist utopia the real life reseach conducted in communication and population control in these states will be a mjor asset to the mother country.
    Oh and besides being models they provide major resourses to the mother nation as well. god don’t asiatic countries boardering China remind you of at least a few sounth american states.. Nicarwaga (probably misspelt) etc? there is even venesuala which can serve as a counter for japan or something.
    may the great powers live on to their eventual downfall and rememberance in history. America gave the world the Internet, what has the recent China revivial givenÉ 50 cents
    (i am on a new laptop and the damned canadian keyboard setting gives me É instead of a question mark, its late and im not about to fix it)

  5. Bin Wang

    Guess the poll results reflect more what China will do, as opposed, perhaps, to what China *should* do. There’s some benefits to remaining on friendly terms with N. Korea. Namely, when you don’t do something too well, you look much better when there’s someone else who does it much worse. :-) N. Korea makes Beijing look like geniuses when it comes to PR and that’s no small doing!

    Sometimes you do something stupid enough, even your friends can’t protect you and you understand it. This will all be back to status quo in 3 months. No sweat.

    • Bin, written in that excellent way you know so well…

    • bai ren

      Why seperate *should* with *will* here? what kind of *should* are we talking about? the kind where great powers should not support the crazy actions of their small allies (ie america’s relationship with isreal)? if so yes I agree with you, but I find that the *should* becomes a hopelessly idealistic stance which is best for the relm of opinions and emoting but not practical policy
      if *should* reffers not to the idealistic mentioned above, but to practical measures of soft power which prevent war and punish offenders whose actions could well lead to war, then the polls’ results seem fairly in keeping with this.
      there are other possible *shoulds* you might be refering to such as GO TO WAR, but I doupt this was your intended meaning.

      • Bin Wang

        You’re right white dude. I guess what I meant by *should* would have been stuart’s version of *should.* Poll results recommend what China will do, which is probably for the best–play broker/middleman.

        Also, front page at–U.S. China talks now focused on N. Korea. Wag the Dog anyone? RMB manipulation/trade imbalance talks to be shelved for a good while I’m sure. Pretty crafty move!

  6. Chucky, you just knew I was going to chime in on this one, didn’t you? Thanks for the bait. I bite, alas…

    Lookit, I have issues with professional pundits’ general series of responses to the following mysterious question: “What is the wayward and highly unpredictable Axis of Evil-allied DPRK capable of unleashing on the region and the planet?”

    Since these experts *themselves* aren’t in the least in unanimous agreement about the answer…the absolute most the North Koreans seem capable of doing is unleashing some aged torpedoes on an unaccompanied ROK cutter in order to shake up the status quo and get all 6 parties concerned that mayhem on the 38th is woefully imminent.

    That, and stirring a hornet’s nest of US, Chinese, Japanese, and — tangentially — Russian ire.

    I’m not denying that Bam Bam (aka Kim Jong-il) has every ability to capsize the cold Korean peace and to embroil the Chinese, Japanese, and the Americans, in an unwanted conflict. But really now? Other than bluster, spin, and idle threats, what can the sick man of Korea do now? His back against the wall and his finger on the red button? Poppycock! This is another Iraq-style WMD white elephant.

    Analyze this, my sweet babies:

    ** DPRK is purported to self-enrich the less deadly uranium, not the more venal plutonium. Ergo, how many nuclear-tipped warheads can DPRK have?! And even *if* it possesses the nukes it claims to have (not to mention what ROK Northern defectors have admitted to), DPRK doesn’t have a long-range delivery mechanism. So what can Kim and his generals do? Roll a nuke off an elevated ramp onto Panmunjom? Harrumph!

    ** so what if the Chinese abandon NK to the four winds? Who else exists with easy access to cash readily deployable for investment in NK’s “economy?” Who else can the Kim Cabal count on to marshal the development of DPRK’s domestic economy other than their (erstwhile) Chinese allies? What, has there been a news flash? Ahmadinejad and the Assads rolling into DPRK with hard currency to spend and ports, roads, and factories? Not gonna happen…

    ** and if the Chinese leave DPRK to its own inscrutable Vinalon-clad devices to join in the global condemnation and clampdown on the Kim regime, a strict quarantine encircling it on all sides which pushes Kim to the wall? Again, so what? What can Bam Bam really do? Two missile salvos of his into Seoul and the Chinese and the Americans are on the DPRK like white on rice.

    The Sino-US relationship is too vital at this crisis-economy stage to permit Pompadour Dude to do what he pleases on the peninsula. They’ve got him covered two ways to Tecumseh.

    ** the “secret” meeting of a couple weeks’ back was likely a shakedown on the part of the Chinese. Here’s what President Hu (‘dat!) must have told Bam Bam: “Now looky here, er, um…Dear, uh, Leader. If you and your minions so much as dare to pull a stunt like that again on our watch, then I swear on the Chairman’s Good Name that we’ll shove a bamboo shoot so far up your country’s keyster you’ll be begging to the heavens for your daddy to come and save your butt. So, lookit, this is how we’re going to play this one, you hear?”

    Or something along those lines…

    I think — and this is what’s so fun about DPRK punditry: no one really knows what it’s next move will be — the Chinese played the Kim visit perfectly.

    The Chinese — masters at this sort of thing — make Kim look like he’s got the upper hand. They stretch this out until the very end…until they can’t use him anymore and they maintain the upper-hand until the time comes to cut him loose. And then, they roll across the Yalu and Tumen looking like saviors. And even MORE pliant and thankful NK citizenry than exists today.

    I think the tether’s reached its maximum reach. Someone’s getting his VD-afflicted pecker chopped down to size very soon.

    Man, the intrigues swirling around the Kim Palace now…sucks to be Bam Bam. I wonder where he’s going to try and gain asylum?

    • King Tubby

      Adam. Waxing poetical/witty there, and it is a good read. Can’t find the link, and it surprised me, but the DPROK marine craft which did the sinking, was quite high tech.

      I would not be surprised if the military have already make their own plans, irrespective of the pending handover to #3 Brilliant Son. Next bit of punditry: falling out among the generals.

      As for the PLA crossing the Yalu and being greeted like saviours. I would be very hesitant with that supposition. Forgetting Japan and the US, a goodly number of northern and southern Koreans would have something very strong to say to that idea. And thats putting it mildly.

      • Hi Tub,

        Military campaigns these days are conducted with money and investments, not necessarily with troops crossing borders. Only in the Middle East and Iraq is this the case.

        My bad: I didn’t clarify it in my original comment, but I didn’t mean tanks and troops. I just meant China’s rising entrepreneurial class. It’s still a possibility, and tell me *which* entity the North Koreans would trust — and by that I mean the Youth Captain, #3 Kim Jong-un — to come in and develop their economy? ROK coming back to Kumgang and Kaesong doesn’t look too likely…

        So who’s left? The Iranians and the Syrians? ::: buzzer sound ::: Nope, the Chinese.

        • King Tubby

          Adam. Now that you have posted a clarification, shifting your argument in a majorly way, I agree with both your points ie Batista’s Cuba and Chinese buccaneer capitalism filling the vacuum.

          *Mil­i­tary cam­paigns these days are con­ducted with money and invest­ments, not nec­es­sar­ily with troops cross­ing bor­ders.*

          Even my lesser subjects know this…….

          The dynasty is finito. Brilliant Son will eke out his days residing in Principe or Sao Tome and wearing a cheap suit.

          The DPROK military now run the gig.

          What’s this obsession with Iran and Syria? The former has its own serious internal governmental issues/the people versus the Revolutionary Guard, and RG is hardly the entity to introduce a market economy.

          Syria, the land of sand, sunshine and pretty good kebabs, is still celebrating its 3 -2 victory over the Chinese football team a year ago.

          You are clouding the issue (for some games show humour).

          Finally, I suspect that many here underestimate Korean zenophobia, irrespective of the dmz division. And the ROK public is well aware of China’s soveriegnity claim for a part of NK.

    • maotai

      PLA in NK, take over a broken down economy with a starving restive populace? Erh … i think the Chinese already have their hands full with their own poor restive rurals. Thanks but no thanks :)

      Let the SKs feed their own brothers.

      • King Tubby

        More to the point. If North Korea imploded and China crossed the river and filled the power vacuum. The 20 million starving have-nots would pig out on food parcels, put on some body mass and then declare a second war of liberation against China.

        While most South Koreans see reunification as far too costly and an influx of northern brothers as a threat to their hard fought democracy, ROK public opinion would turn around in quick time re: second war of liberation against China.

        Also, if push came to shove, don’t put it past the North lobbing a few missiles Beijing’s way. Despite all the red envelopes, China has very little political influence over the Dear Leader and the Pyongyang military/power elite.

        DPROK implosion. The only sure prediction is that it would partially solve the gender imbalance in China’s northern provinces.

        • Jones


          You know China is, has been, and always will be the liberators. They liberated the mainland and Tibet, and will eventually liberate Taiwan as soon as they get around to it. I mean, the name of the army is “The People’s LIBERATION Army” for crying out loud. The NorKors will be rebellious Capitalist Roaders. Whatever “roaders” means.

          Can anyone explain the term “roaders”?

      • It’s not going to be a full take-over. Think the Americans in Cuba pre-Castro days. Think Macao. Think speakeasies and all kinds of illicit stuff the Chinese can’t do in Yanbian Autonomous Province (the ethnic Korean part of China), they’ll do down there…it’s possible…

  7. maotai

    Currently China needs NK as a buffer state. IMHO, as long as there is a sensible agreement that precludes the possiblility of US bases in a united Korea right across the Yalu river and the a block on NK refugees flooding in, China would be willing to help end the current NK regime.

    But a point I often make on this issue is that nobody actually wants a united Korea, at least for now. The SKs are not willing to foot the reunification bill, Japan fears a resurgent united Korea and the US do not want to lose its bases on the peninsula.

    • Jones

      North Korea will be a buffer state for China with or without an alliance. Who else would tromp up through North Korea and into China if not the US and/or South Koreans? NATO? Do you think North Korea would just clear the roads and let them pass through?

    • pug_ster

      I personally think this whole Cheonan incident as an excuse to delay the US-SK military relationship where US moves to transfer authority over command to ROK forces by 2012. The fact that that these ‘findings’ came about 2 weeks before the elections where the war hawk conservatives are sure to win.

      Both SK and Japan have been complaining about US presence in their own backward and China is exerting its influence towards them. I think when US leaves the peninsula, there will be some peace between North and South Korea as China has more interest in both countries being united than being split apart.

  8. lolz

    The best outcome for China would be for KJL to die now, and then China can easily make one of his sons or whoever the successor a puppet. The second best outcome would be for SK to reunite with NK before NK gets too far with the nukes.

    The best outcome for the US is for KJL to abandon nukes, but continue to pose a threat to SK. That way there would be greater justifications for the US bases in the region to still exist. A much less desirable outcome would be for SK to unite with NK.

    China and the US share a similar goal in wanting NK to stop developing nukes. On this platform they can and will work together.

    • That is, if the Northerners have the “deadly nukes” that the media is intent on telling everyone they do. I still think it’s much ado about nothing. Nukes they might have…alas a delivery mechanism they do not.

  9. Terry

    The US has been wanting to get rid of its bases in Korea for a long time but SK won’t let that happen. They have been trying to move them away from the border area where they are basically “hostages”, a sick sort of guarantee that the US will get involved if NK attacks. 28,000 US troops against the NK’s massive army with heavy armor… not such a sweet position to be in.

    • Terry

      that last post was supposed to be a response to Maotai’s assertion about the US interest in keeping bases in SK.

      My personal recommendation is a quick surgical strike destroying all 12 or more? of Bam Bam’s palaces plus the palaces of the military leadership stocked full of imported luxury goods and movie theaters and swimming pools etc. Just hit the leadership where it hurts… but god knows how they will react to that!! those palaces are pretty obscene given the state of the people of NK.

    • I’m not sure I’m buying this one, Ter. I mean, the largest most technologically-sophisticated military in the world is “not being permitted” from leaving the Panmunjom vicinity by the ROK? Is what you’re saying?

      • Zictor


        As we all know, it isn’t just about muscle, there are many other factors as well. Those bases cost a LOT of money from the US Treasury, and that money gets pumped into the local economy. For that reason, many local governments want those bases around and they become diplomatic chips as well. These bases have become big issues in many senses.

      • Terry

        There was a big disagreement a while back (not going to research this one now) when either Clinton or Bush wanted to move the bases away from the 38th Parallel to somewhere south of Seoul and the Korean’s vehemently objected and feared that this was a prelude to future downsizing and withdrawal. Zictor has a good point there about diplomatic chips as well.

  10. It is in fact largely a myth that China is ’sup­port­ing’ North Korea. As far as the recent visit of Kim Jong-Il to Bei­jing is con­cerned, it had no rela­tion to the sink­ing of the South Korean ship, since it was planned months ago.

    China most cer­tainly doesn’t want a pres­sure cooker burst­ing right in its own back­yard, not to men­tion the thou­sands of refugees which it will unleash. China pub­licly rebuked N.Korea after it test-fired a series of bal­lis­tic mis­siles in 2006 despite being asked by China not to do so. It has imposed sanc­tions on North Korea twice in the past. In fact, China has helped sus­tain Kim Jong-Il’s regime and opposed harsh inter­na­tional eco­nomic sanc­tions in the hope of avoid­ing regime col­lapse and an uncon­trolled influx of refugees across its 800-mile bor­der. Con­se­quently, China has sup­ported mil­i­tary sanc­tions against North Korea, but not eco­nomic ones. China has repeat­edly attempted, but failed to per­suade North Korea to open up its econ­omy like it (China) has done.

    China’s North Korea pol­icy hinges on mainly two fac­tors – a) Sta­bil­ity in the Korean penin­sula and b) eco­nomic rela­tions and North Korea’s nat­ural resources.

    In the words of USIP:

    North Korea has proven to be the great­est dis­ap­point­ment for China, from.……the strate­gi­cally ori­ented cen­tral gov­ern­ments’ per­spec­tive. North Korea’s test­ing of a nuclear weapon in 2006, despite Chi­nese remon­stra­tions to refrain, was a clear mes­sage to Bei­jing that their his­toric rela­tion­ship was no longer what it once was. Beijing’s abil­ity to influ­ence North Korean polit­i­cal cal­cu­la­tions is at a nadir. Chi­nese offi­cials and schol­ars rec­og­nize that their polit­i­cal aims vis-à-vis North Korea’s polit­i­cal and social devel­op­ment will not be achieved. Chi­nese North Korea experts pri­vately admit that Kim Jong Il will not will­ingly give up his nuclear weapons, despite China’s clearly stated desire that the Korean penin­sula should remain nuclear weapon free. Refer­ring to an assess­ment of Kim Jong Il’s view of his weapon, one expert com­mented, “it’s all he has, he can’t give it up or he will have nothing.”

    N. Korea also pro­vides a buffer zone between China and S. Korea, which is home to around twenty-nine thou­sand U.S. troops and marines.

    How­ever, the North’s recent endeav­ours have put China in a spot; and if it con­tin­ues in this vein, it won’t be long before Bei­jing will have to recon­sider call­ing North Korea a ‘friend’ and an ‘ally’.

    • pug_ster

      Agreed, I do think it is a coincidence that Hillary as well 200 envoys from the US come to China just because they want to talk about trade? I think that US and those SK Conservative warmongers wants China’s support in regards to North Korea and China just don’t want to hear it.

  11. friendo

    Clearly they should cut off all food aid so everyone aged 0-15 dies.

  12. I still feel it’s the height of scholarly arrogance to insinuate there’s some sort of definitive answer in terms of how best to deal with NK. No one knows the political calculations, least of all we bloggers.

    Everyone here, kindly refrain from making absolutist statements in regard to China’s intentions on the peninsula. “This is what China wants,” or “China feels that,” or “China doesn’t want…” How in blazes do *you/we* know this?!

    Because you read a few reports? Because I read a few reports? This is expertise? This is our hall pass for being able to make absolutist statements?

    C’mon, folks, we’re all just speculating, ain’t we? And if that’s what we’re up to, then why can’t we just do so without the bombast and the “I know better than you” effrontery…it’s silly and the equivalent of taking your sac out and placing it on the table saying, here, mine are bigger than yours (none are bigger than Charles Custer’s though, so he tells me).

    Just roll with it…just hope Bam Bam doesn’t have a “nookleer device” capable of taking our Osaka, Kyoto, Seoul, Busan, or Shenyang.

    There is no such thing as a North Korean expert, Frankie, just as there’s no such thing as a China expert.

    Full stop.

    As we were…

  13. “So I feel pretty bad about getting us GFWed. If, in fact, it was me”

    have you become ronery since then?

  14. Leo

    The fox told the farmer, “You should ditch that dog. That dog’s useless!”

    Yes, yes.

Continuing the Discussion