Is China Getting Uneasy with North Korea?

South of the 38th parallel, nerves are beginning to tighten over an increasingly hostile North Korea, which in days passed has named the U.S. territory Guam as a potential target for missile attacks and also barred South Korean workers from entering the Kaesŏng Industrial Region. Along with growing antagonism from North Korea, some in China have begun to question the longtime alliance between the two countries, and the editor of a Party journal was recently suspended for voicing his concerns in an op-ed. In light of these recent events, The Globe and Mail asks if China is growing uneasy with North Korea:

As rantings from North Korea become ever more belligerent and bizarre, there are signs that China, its only outside friend in the world, is beginning to distance itself, too.

Normally reluctant to voice any sign of despair whenever tensions deepen on the Korean Peninsula, the Chinese are now talking about their “serious concern” over escalating developments there.

[…C]riticism of North Korea’s extreme behaviour is becoming relatively commonplace in the Chinese media, although one editor was suspended last month for calling on the People’s Republic to abandon Mr. Kim and his military cohorts.

If there is a shift in China’s policy toward North Korea, it follows years of growing frustration by Chinese leaders at the headaches caused by their strange, unpredictable ally. For China, it’s been all give and very little reward, and the country’s new helmsmen may have had it.

The Telegraph points to small changes in Chinese foreign policy as evidence that China, a country preoccupied with a domestic anti-corruptuption campaign and much tension in the South China Sea, is indeed losing patience with its old friend:

[…]Kurt Campbell, the former head of the State department in Asia, said there are signs that a relationship once described by Chairman Mao to be “as close as lips and teeth” is wearing thin.

“There is a subtle shift in Chinese foreign policy. Over the short to medium term, that has the potential to affect the calculus in north east Asia,” Mr Campbell said at a forum at John Hopkins university.

[…]”I do not think that subtle shift can be lost on Pyongyang,” he said. “They need a close relationship with China for every conceivable reason. It’s not in their strategic interest to alienate every country that surrounds them.

“The most important new ingredient has been a recognition in China that their previous approach to North Korea is not bearing fruit.”

While subtle changes to foreign policy may reflect the state’s impatience with the Hermit Kingdom, Chinese citizens also seem to be growing weary. To provide a view from the ground, The Guardian reports from Kuandian county, Liaoning province – a region bordering North Korea:

Every time North Korea threatens a nuclear strike, Ge Weihan receives a frantic call from his mother. Although the 34-year-old filmmaker moved to Beijing years ago, his parents still live in a small Chinese village less than 25 miles (40km) from the insular nation.

[…]Residents of Ge’s home village in mountainous Kuandian county have become accustomed to an influx of Chinese troops every time tensions flare on the Korean peninsula – just in case things spin out of control. Yet this time the soldiers are so numerous, and media reports so shrill, that even the most hardened villagers are nervous.

[…]Yet the vast majority of Chinese people consider North Korea just as strange and frightening as western observers. “It’s just awkward,” said Ge, who has lived among North Korean refugees. “It’s an extremely awkward situation for the government, and that makes common people feel awkward as well.”

Despite possible hesitations in maintaining support for their hawkish ally, it appears that China will still be funding a planned bridge symbolizing economic ties between the two countries. The Guardian reports:

The new bridge will link border cities in both North Korea and China over the Amnok River – also known as the Yalu River – and has been hailed as a symbol of close economic ties between the two neighbours.

The showcase project, which is being payrolled by China at a cost of £235m (2.22 billion Chinese yuan), is due to be completed next year.

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