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11 March 2013

China distances itself from North Korea but is still trapped in a paranoid mindset of its own

In 1966, when France withdrew from NATO’s military command, Charles de Gaulle issued a demand that all American forces leave French soil. It is said that Lyndon Johnson’s reply was to ask whether this included the dead American soldiers buried in military cemeteries. This was not, of course, a genuine question, but rather a way of reminding de Gaulle of what America had sacrificed on French soil in two world wars. 

Years later, the story became hopelessly distorted, with internet sources claiming that America’s fallen had actually been exhumed and deported by the French. Obviously, the reports were false. De Gaulle, even at his most difficult, would never have treated a wartime ally with such dishonour.

Not so the North Korean regime, it would seem:

  • “As early as the 1960s, North Korea rewrote the history of the [Korean] war. To establish the absolute authority of Kim Il-sung, its founder, North Korea removed from historical record the contribution of the hundreds of thousands of sons and daughters of China who sacrificed themselves to beat the UN troops back to the 38th parallel that now divides the peninsula. Many cemeteries commemorating the volunteer soldier heroes have been levelled, and Kim Il-sung was given all the credit for the offensive.”

Writing in Financial Times, Deng Yuwen argues that it is time for China to disown its North Korean ally:

  • “...a relationship between states based on ideology is dangerous. If we were to choose our allies on ideology alone, China’s relationship with the west today would not exist. Although both countries are socialist, their differences are much larger than those between China and the west.
  • “...basing China’s strategic security on North Korea’s value as a geopolitical ally is outdated. Even if North Korea was a useful friend during the cold war, its usefulness today is doubtful.”

The remarkable thing about this article is that Deng Yuwen is a Chinese Communist Party official –not an especially senior one, but he wouldn’t be writing for a western newspaper without approval from the top.

No doubt, this is more about firing a warning shot at Pyongyang than signaling a major shift in Chinese foreign policy. Still, as warning shots go, it's pretty close to the mark:

  • “Considering these arguments, China should consider abandoning North Korea. The best way of giving up on Pyongyang is to take the initiative to facilitate North Korea’s unification with South Korea. Bringing about the peninsula’s unification would help undermine the strategic alliance between Washington, Tokyo and Seoul; ease the geopolitical pressure on China from northeast Asia; and be helpful to the resolution of the Taiwan question.”

One has ask though: what is this “geopolitical pressure” that the Chinese imagine is directed at them? Yes, there are tensions with the US over a number of issues, but set against the enormous benefit that China has derived from access to western investment, technology and export markets they pale in comparison.

Perhaps what China’s communist government really fears is America’s stated desire to spread democracy around the world. If so, they needn’t worry. When western government have an interest in the stability of a regime (as they certainly do in China) then its surprising just how little democracy they’re willing to accept. Just ask the Saudis.


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