This conclusion has it about right.
China's historical ties to North Korea still have some meaning, but it would be a mistake to assume that these ties are what drives Beijing's approach to its neighbor. The Chinese government does not love the Kim family and will not shed a tear once it goes. But the timing has to be right. Ultimately, like the last remaining friend of unpopular bullies worldwide, Beijing knows that it'll have to pick up the pieces if anything goes wrong.
MATT SCHIAVENZA - Matt Schiavenza is an associate editor at The Atlantic.
China Wouldn't Mind a Unified Korea—Just Not Yet
JAN 25 2013, 8:53 AM ET 57
How far will China to go to protect an increasingly belligerent North Korea?
North Korean leader Kim Jong-un delivers a New Years address in Pyongyang (KCNA KCNA/Reuters)
In considering the security situation in Northeast Asia, it's sometimes useful to imagine the region's players as schoolboys playing in a courtyard. North Korea, bellicose and unpredictable, misbehaves and threatens the others. An outraged Japan, South Korea, and the United States then turn to China and say, "Well? He'syour friend!"
Since the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991, China has had the dubious distinction of being North Korea's only ally and friend on the world stage, a relationship that has occasionally caused a great deal of discomfort. In essence, Beijing's support consists of both economic assistance -- in the form of both direct aid and trade -- and diplomatic protection. To continue our schoolyard analogy, China not only shields its ally from the others -- it also pays for North Korea's lunch.
To the United States and its allies in the region, this arrangement is less than satisfactory. It's no secret that Washington would like to see the eventual reunification of Korea under a pro-Western government in Seoul, and views Beijing as the primary obstacle to realizing this goal. A recent report by U.S. Senate Republican staff members -- mentioned in an article by The Guardian on Tuesday -- went so far as to say that China may block the reunification of North and South Korea should it appear to be imminent.
The rationale for this position is simple and purely strategic: China does not wish to have a unified, dynamic Korea with tens of thousands of American troops sitting right on its northeastern border. For all of its hassles, North Korea is a valuable buffer, one that Beijing would be loath to see fall apart. Americans might think of China's support for a divided Korea as anachronistic, immoral, and wrong. But in the great game of Northeast Asia power politics, this position makes perfect sense.
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