China Won’t Forsake North Korea

Tensions between North Korea and China have been on the rise due to the recent nuclear test by Pyongyang. As a result, China has voiced support for the U.N. Security Council’s resolution that would impose tougher sanctions on North Korea. Bloomberg reports:

The council voted 15-0, with no debate, to adopt a resolution drafted by the U.S. and China in the aftermath of the Feb. 12 underground blast.

North Korea “will exercise the right to a preemptive nuclear attack to destroy the strongholds of the aggressors and to defend the supreme interests of the country,” a foreign ministry statement carried by the official Korean Central News Agency said today. It warned the UN “not to make another big blunder.”

“We take all North Korean threats seriously enough to ensure that we have the correct defense posture to deal with any contingencies that might arise,” Glyn Davies, the U.S. special representative for North Korea policy, said today after testifying to the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.

China’s enforcement of sanctions is crucial, said Davies. China “remains central to altering North Korea’s cost calculus,” he said in testimony. “Both geography and history have endowed the People’s Republic of China with a unique —- if increasingly challenging -— diplomatic, economic, and military relationship” with North Korea.

Despite the unanimous support for tougher sanctions on Pyongyang, China’s Foreign Minister, Yang Jiechi, says sanctions are not the solution to North Korea. From The Voice of America:

Yang says China has always believed that sanctions are not the end goal of the Security Council’s actions or the fundamental way to resolve the issue. Yang was speaking at an annual press conference held on the sidelines of the country’s legislative meetings, or National People’s Congress.

The fresh sanctions include new measures to block bulk transfers of cash that are being used to support alleged illicit activities by the North, and further restricts ties to North Korea’s financial sector. They also call for a crackdown on suspicious cargo from the North, among other measures.

Some analysts believe that Beijing’s support of the new round of sanctions is a sign it is growing increasingly frustrated with the North. Others, however, are skeptical how far Beijing will go to implement them.

Yang’s press conference lasted about an hour and a half, and touched on a wide range of topics from China’s relations with Russia, Africa and Europe.

According to The New York Times, Yang has remarked that China will not forsake North Korea:

 China’s foreign minister said Saturday that Beijing would not abandon North Korea, reiterating China’s longstanding position that dialogue, not sanctions, is the best way to persuade the North to abandon its nuclear weapons.

The clearest sign of China’s exasperation with North Korea came Thursday at a side session of the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference, an advisory group to the government that was open to the news media.

Delegates to the conference, according to a senior Communist Party official, Qiu Yuanping, talked about whether to “keep or dump” North Korea and debated whether China, as a major power, should “fight or talk” with the North.

The extent to which China will enforce the new United Nations sanctions remains unclear, an expert on the North Korean economy, Marcus Noland of the Peterson Institute for International Economics in Washington, wrote in a blog post. There are plenty of loopholes for China to exploit if it wanted to, he noted.

Amid these calls for calm and restraint on North Korea, some analysts say that Beijing’s patience with Pyongyang is wearing thin. The Telegraph reports:

Zhang Liangui, a Korea expert at the Central Party School, which trains Communist cadres, said the protests in Pyongyang showed that North Korea is “mobilising its citizens for war” and that the situation was “hugely tense”.

He added that North Korea was pushing shut the gate to negotiation with any outside party, including China.

Li Kaisheng, a professor of International Relations at Xiangtan university said the UN resolution mainly focused on stopping “the luxurious life” of North Korea’s leaders.

“The mutual interest between China and North Korea has become non-existent, and China will not provide unconditional support to it, so any war will inevitably lead to the collapse of the North Korean regime,” he said.

While CDT previously reported on an increase in trade between China and North Korea in 2011, Reuters reports trade growth between the two countries has slowed sharply in 2012:

Trade between the two countries rose an annual 5.4 percent in 2012 to a total of $5.93 billion, compared with 62.4 percent growth in 2011, according to a report released on Thursday by the Korea International Trade Association (KITA).

North Korea does not release any economic statistics.

The trade body said the fall was due lower global prices for coal and steel– the of the two main resources China imports from North Korea — and due to weaker demand as China’s economy grew just 7.8 percent in 2012, its weakest level since 1999, the report said.

“North Korea’s economic reliance on China is expected to become heavier in the future, with the gap between bilateral trade with South Korea and China growing wider,” the association said.


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