The End of an Ally: China is ‘not North Korea’s savior’
As China’s patience with North Korea is growing thin, China is questioning the ties with its 65-year long ally. “We have wiped North Korea’s ass for too long,” says General Wang Hongguang.
How should China deal with North Korea? It is a central question in Chinese media this week, as two prominent figures in the China-North Korea debate publicly announced their perspectives on the future of the bilateral relationship. China has been the most important ally and friend to North Korea since the separation of the two Korea’s by the end of WWII. China supported the North during the Korean War (1950-1953) and has lent political and economic backing to its leaders since. China is not only North Korea’s main trading partner, it also is its main source of food, energy and weapons (Xu & Bajoria 2014). Although the cost of subsidizing North Korea is high, the fear of a crumbling North Korean regime has been higher; North Korea’s implosion could lead to a stream of refugees into China and a security vacuum that would be filled by South Korea, Japan and the United States (Kornberg&Faust 2005, 165). But since North Korea has carried out its third nuclear test since 2006, the alliance between Beijing and Pyongyang has weakened. Instead, China’s relations to South Korea are gradually warming. It is at this time that Chinese media focus on China-North Korea ties. Over the past week, Chinese Korea specialist Li Dunqiu and retired People’s Liberation Army (PLA) lieutenant Wang Hongguang have both shared their views on the future of the China-North Korea alliance. Lieutenant Wang’s view is straightforward: “China is not North Korea’s savior.”
Recently, several Chinese scholars have suggested that China should renounce its relations with North Korea. On November 27th, Professor Li Dunqiu from Zhejiang University stated in the Chinese Global Times that China cannot simply give up its special 65-year long friendship to Pyongyang, since it is important to China in many ways. Not only is North Korea important to China as a strategic partner, it also is a communist ally that shares the same interests. Li states that giving up on North Korea could also pose a security threat to China: if North Korea crumbles, the United States might benefit from its weakness by gaining the strategic advantages it has been pursuing since the Korean War (Guancha 2014).
“China has wiped North Korea’s ass for too long,” says General Wang.
General Wang Hongguang disagrees with Li. He responded to the article on December 1st with his essay “China’s Non-Existent “Abandoning North Korea” Problem” (“中国不存在“放弃朝鲜”的问题“ ). According to Wang, the entire debate boils down to one thing: North Korea was never really China’s true ally to begin with, so their ‘non-existent’ alliance cannot be renounced. Wang denies that Pyongyang and Beijing have the same interests. If that were the case, Wang argues, then North Korea would not possess nuclear weapons. These weapons are damaging Chinese territories through pollution and are posing a serious threat to the people of China. They also jeopardize the peace of the region. Beijing fears that North Korea’s possession of a nuclear bomb will trigger Japan to get its own nuclear weapons. A regional war could erupt, involving Russia, South Korea, Japan, North Korea, China, and the US. If these powerful nations all get involved in a Northeast Asian conflict, regional security is in serious danger. From this perspective, Wang wonders how Li could maintain that North Korea and China have the same interests: North Korean does not take China’s interests into account at all. “China has to think from its own perspective and has take a stance against North Korea harming our interests ,” says Wang: “We should not even think of it as ‘abandoning’ North Korea. China has wiped North Korea’s ass for too long.” China should not go to war for North Korea, adds Wang: “China’s younger generations should not fight a battle for a country that is not theirs” (Guancha 2014).
North Korea is not China’s communist or socialist ally, according to Wang. Any ideological similarities North Korea and China once had, have disappeared since long. North Korea has developed in a vastly different direction than China has, and all of its political Marxist thoughts and principles have been replaced by those of Kim Il Sung. “It is not a real socialist country,” says Wang.
“China will not go to war for North Korea.”
Wang also denies North Korea’s significance as a strategic military partner to China because of its location, since the nature of war has changed due to globalization and the Information Age. Other factors, more important than location, have become crucial in building strategic relations.
China should not get involved if North Korea crumbles, Wang concludes. If a regime is not supported by the people, it’s only a matter of time before it falls. China’s role in this issue should not be overestimated, says Wang: “China is not North Korea’s savior” (Guancha 2014).
Guancha. 2014. “解放军中将：朝鲜若崩溃中国救不了 中国人不必为朝打仗” Guancha [The Observer] 1 Dec http://www.guancha.cn/internation/2014_12_01_302090.shtml (Accessed Dec 1, 2014).
Kornberg, Judith F. and John R. Faust. 2005. China World Politics: Policies, Processes, Prospects. Vancouver: UBC Press.
Xu, Beina and Jayshree Bajoria. 2014. “The China-North Korea Relationship.” Council on Foreign Relations, 22 Aug http://www.cfr.org/china/china-north-korea-relationship/p11097 (Accessed Dec 2, 2014).
Featured image: Chinese propaganda poster from 1952: “Long live the North Korean People’s Army and the Chinese People’s Liberation Army!”, via http://www.163w.co/html/xch/cxrm.html
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