As always I disagree with the characterization of north Korea as unpredictable. I think it continues to act in a strategically predictable manner though tactics and actions and appearances do adjust to the conditions and new leadership. But I do agree with Dr. Campbell's conclusion on China.
China’s approach to its deeply unpredictable neighbour has gone through several phases in the modern era.
As China takes stock of the situation in northeast Asia, it must confront several trends. The lack of North Korean reform, Mr Kim’s increasingly risky gambits, the ineffectiveness of its “soft” approach, its own deepening ties with South Korea, and the risks of a wider Asian conflict underscore a growing unease. This has caused influential insiders around the new leadership in Beijing to ask: what good is this so-called buffer?
February 19, 2013 6:00 pm
North Korea is testing China’s patience
By Kurt Campbell
Pyongyang’s nuclear big bang has exposed the flaws in Beijing’s approach, writes Kurt Campbell
North Korea’s third nuclear test represents a challenge to all countries interested in the future of the pariah state.
For South Korea, it is a final rebuke against the hardline policies of outgoing president Lee Myung-bak and a reminder to incoming president Park Geun-hyeahead of her inauguration next week that engagement with Pyongyang poses severe risks. For Japan, it dashes latent hopes for a breakthrough in the unresolved kidnapping cases of its citizens who were snatched off its beaches by North Korean agents. And for the US, the test is a vivid testament that the young, unpredictable and secretive leader Kim Jong-eun is pursuing a long-range nuclear capability – a growing risk to American security.
Yet North Korea’s big bang is primarily directed at and most keenly felt in Beijing, where a new generation of leaders is choosing its foreign policy underlings and policies for the years ahead. China’s relationship with North Korea is a complex mix of supposed ideological solidarity and deep mutual distrust. Despite the shared sacrifices of the Korean war and decades of (self-interested) Chinese support for the dynastic Kim regime, there is no love lost between these two.
China’s approach to its deeply unpredictable neighbour has gone through several phases in the modern era. The first period was defined by conflict leading to the division of the Korean peninsula in the early 1950s. China dramatically entered the Korean war on the side of the North – not so much to save it but to drive the approaching “imperialistic” forces from its borders. Since the armistice of 1952, North Korea has served as a sort of buffer state separating China from the US forces below the demilitarised zone. For decades thereafter, North Korea has lived in self-chosen internal exile, nurtured and sustained by the fraternal forces of the communist camp, until one by one they either fell or changed. China was largely internally preoccupied with its own historic reforms during this period, somewhat indulgent of Pyongyang’s occasional provocations, and content to let others such as the Soviet Union pick up the tab for North Korea’s bizarre approach to national development.
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