China has called for “emergency consultations” between North and South Korea to try to mitigate escalating tensions in the wake of the North Korean shelling of a South Korean island. From the New York Times:
…The Chinese response, which appeared to be studiously neutral, was far from what either South Korea or the United States had publicly sought from China, which provides critical economic aid to the North and is believed to have the most leverage on North Korea’s reclusive government.
American officials had wanted China to single out the North as an aggressor in this case, as well as criticize the North over its recent unveiling of a new plant for uranium enrichment. South Korea’s president, Lee Myung-bak, said in a televised speech on Monday in Seoul that if the North acted provocatively again “we will make sure it pays a dear price without fail.” Mr. Lee made no mention of China’s diplomacy.
Chinese analysts said Beijing’s solutions were not perfect but were the best it could do. “North Korea is not the kind of country that if its neighbor severs economic assistance it will bow down and listen to it,” said Liu Ming of the Shanghai Academy of Social Sciences. “China knows this, so it cannot do much more.”
The Chinese effort came as the United States, South Korea’s most powerful ally, began naval war games with South Korean forces in the Yellow Sea in response to the shelling, a move that both China and North Korea have criticized as provocative.
See also from the Caixin blog, “Why Do “We” Provide Aid to North Korea?”:
Most of the international media write that North Korea’s main lines for survival come from China. Without China, the regime in North Korea would not hold for a single day. Domestic media echo the same sentiments, with astronomical estimations of China’s essential assistance to North Korea. A large question looming in the minds of many is how much taxpayer money has been spent on North Korean assistance. Of course, these figures would never escape the innermost sanctum of national security vaults. Not even the National People’s Congress can summon this type of information. Bearing this in mind, the only question to ask is one of principle. Why does China continue to aid North Korea?
The long-standing and strongest argument is that North Korea is a buffer against the strategic alliance of Japan, the U.S. and South Korea. North Korea is China’s ideal strategic buffer zone. North Korea, a so-called “barking rogue state” has been useful in antagonizing the United States. In the words of U.S. President Franklin Roosevelt, when asked why America supported one of the deadliest dictators in Latin America, “He may be a son of a bitch, but he’s our son of a bitch.” Similarly, North Korea is China’s son of a bitch.
This argument seems reasonable but in essence, there is an implicit premise that the United States and Japan are the natural enemies of China. And yet even this runs against the cloth of official rhetoric of the government. At every possible occasion, the Chinese government says that it wants to establish strategic cooperative relations with the United States and that China is the closest neighbor to Japan, separated only by a narrow strip of water. And according to the government propaganda, our relations with South Korea are on a bedrock foundation of strength. These countries have their closest economic ties with China so it would seem that the buffer is unnecessary.