SEVERE WX : Winter Weather Advisory View Alerts
STREAMING NOW: Watch Now

China fears Kim is moving out of its orbit as South Korea, US talks loom

China and North Korea boast an alliance forged in blood -- more than 130,000 Chinese troops, including the son of Mao...

Posted: Apr 25, 2018 9:38 AM
Updated: Apr 25, 2018 9:38 AM

China and North Korea boast an alliance forged in blood -- more than 130,000 Chinese troops, including the son of Mao Zedong, died defending the North during the Korean War -- but the relationship has always been an uneasy one.

While Pyongyang is dependent on Beijing for trade and diplomatic support, experts say the North Korean regime has always resented playing the little brother role to the much bigger China.

Now, as North Korean ruler Kim Jong Un establishes himself on the world stage and prepares for summits with South Korean President Moon Jae-in and US President Donald Trump, Beijing fears Pyongyang is moving out of its orbit and striking out on its own.

While China's economic pressure has been pivotal in bringing Kim to the negotiating table, Beijing worries Kim might now agree to a deal that brings his country closer to its old enemies and further from its traditional ally, which has seen it through famine and global isolation.

"There is even an extreme concern within the strategic Chinese community that maybe the US will accept a nuclear capable North Korea as its ally, or at least a friendly country," said Tong Zhao, a nuclear policy expert at Tsinghua Carnegie Center for Global Policy in Beijing.

Those concerns have been exacerbated by strained ties between the China and the US as the Trump administration clashes with an emboldened Chinese President, Xi Jinping, over trade.

"Some of the concern is so extreme that it almost sounds like a conspiracy theory, but it reflects this deep, embedded Chinese suspicion about both the US and North Korea," he said.

Left out?

For more than half a century the status quo worked just fine for China -- North Korea, a fraternal communist country, acted as a buffer separating it from the US forces in the South.

But Pyongyang's pursuit of its own nuclear weapons, which intensified under Kim Jong Un, changed that balance -- raising the specter of a regional arms race on China's doorstep, the risk of preemptive military action by the US and its allies, or an unintended outbreak of conflict.

This was something Beijing could not tolerate.

"China has always wanted to maintain a normal and stable relationship with North Korea. China has no disagreements with North Korea in any issue area except nuclear," said Zhao.

"China had to respond strongly to North Korea's acceleration of nuclear development -- China had to join the rest of the international community to impose sanctions that really impacted North Korea."

Kim also purged several key officials with close ties to Beijing, including his uncle Jang Song Thaek, angering its chief patron.

Relations suffered and the two traditional allies ended up barely on talking terms.

The rapid overtures by Kim earlier this year proposing talks with South Korea and with the US, while not unwelcome, caught Beijing off guard.

China acted quickly to reassert itself. In late March, Kim turned up in Beijing, his first foreign trip since taking power seven years ago.

The optics were unmistakable. Kim showed deference to China by traveling to the capital to brief his huge neighbor and ally and to seek its advice and blessing. President Xi made a show of grandly feting Kim, in the process reminding the world that China is on North Korea's side and remains a key diplomatic player on the Korean Peninsula.

"China doesn't like the current picture of the two Koreas and the US center stage without China. Beijing's main concern is any chance that it can't exercise its influence and serve its interests in the region," said Duyeon Kim, senior fellow at the Korean Peninsula Future Forum in Seoul.

Will maximum pressure continue?

Last year, China signed onto the toughest ever UN sanctions because it wanted to bring Pyongyang to talks but it has no interest in regime change in North Korea.

Beijing fears both an economic and political collapse that would send refugees fleeing across the border and could lead to the potential reunification of the North with the US-allied South.

As such, when North Korea proclaimed last week it would no longer be testing nuclear weapons or missiles, some in China saw this as a chance to relax the sanctions that some analysts believe have forced the rapprochement.

Shortly after that announcement, an op-ed in the strident, state-owned Global Times stated this point of view explicitly: "If Washington still wants to coerce Pyongyang to abandon nuclear weapons with maximum pressure, it will be dangerous, and neither China nor South Korea will agree to such an approach. It will probably herald a return to even more intense turmoil."

"The international community should encourage North Korea by lifting some sanctions and resuming certain exchanges, showing North Korea the huge benefits its return to the international fold will bring, and the significance abandoning its nuclear weapons will have on its security. "

There is every indication that this opinion is shared by the Chinese government.

"We believe all resolutions should be implemented in their entirety and the DPRK sanctions and resolutions not only include the sanctions but also the measures that will encourage denuclearization and promoting peace and stability on the peninsula," said Foreign Ministry spokesman Lu Kang this week.

The White House insists that the US will not negotiate any concessions until Pyongyang takes concrete steps towards dismantling its nuclear and missile program and its maximum pressure campaign will continue.

Ultimately, Xi does not want the US to be in the driving seat in a region where China increasingly calls the shots, and at a time when relations between Beijing and Washington are at a low.

Kim, the analyst, says Beijing will exploit any opportunity to undermine US credibility and influence the results of the two summits.

"If Beijing isn't happy with the outcome of the two summits, it could easily derail American efforts to denuclearize North Korea by lifting sanctions against the North, providing a safe haven for its illicit activities, and refusing to implement existing and future UN sanctions," she says.

Oregon Coronavirus Cases

Data is updated nightly.

Cases: 65170

Reported Deaths: 820
CountyCasesDeaths
Multnomah14988210
Washington881596
Marion8321127
Clackamas535376
Umatilla409948
Lane382037
Jackson335623
Malheur230839
Deschutes191114
Yamhill156516
Linn126018
Polk105115
Douglas80415
Jefferson76511
Benton7097
Union6912
Klamath6854
Morrow6197
Lincoln56313
Wasco47218
Josephine4314
Columbia4223
Coos3831
Hood River3611
Clatsop3330
Baker2573
Crook1906
Grant1221
Tillamook1110
Curry1052
Lake980
Harney861
Wallowa702
Sherman230
Gilliam210
Wheeler20
Unassigned00

California Coronavirus Cases

Data is updated nightly.

Cases: 1114524

Reported Deaths: 18726
CountyCasesDeaths
Los Angeles3645207438
San Bernardino845311129
Riverside806761400
San Diego71648968
Orange696941554
Kern38316445
Fresno35973471
Sacramento33133546
Santa Clara30676463
Alameda27485499
San Joaquin24649503
Contra Costa22412258
Stanislaus20370416
Tulare19752303
Ventura18040174
Imperial15053353
San Francisco14445158
Monterey13886113
San Mateo13203169
Sonoma11428155
Merced10986176
Santa Barbara10922133
Kings1003886
Solano934980
Marin7518128
Placer577867
Madera571480
San Luis Obispo561835
Yolo419975
Shasta409542
Santa Cruz389827
Butte366459
Napa275717
Sutter263813
El Dorado19304
San Benito174115
Yuba173210
Lassen14803
Tehama143523
Mendocino138522
Nevada10189
Lake83218
Glenn8296
Humboldt7309
Tuolumne7088
Colusa6426
Mono4993
Siskiyou4951
Amador45016
Calaveras43421
Inyo28316
Del Norte2731
Plumas1770
Trinity1130
Modoc1110
Mariposa1042
Alpine420
Sierra170
Unassigned00
Medford
Overcast
47° wxIcon
Hi: 48° Lo: 33°
Feels Like: 47°
Brookings
Overcast
49° wxIcon
Hi: 53° Lo: 42°
Feels Like: 47°
Crater Lake
Overcast
40° wxIcon
Hi: 42° Lo: 26°
Feels Like: 33°
Grants Pass
Overcast
45° wxIcon
Hi: 48° Lo: 33°
Feels Like: 45°
Klamath Falls
Overcast
40° wxIcon
Hi: 44° Lo: 23°
Feels Like: 33°
Few Monday showers
KDRV Radar
KDRV Fire Danger
KDRV Weather Cam

Community Events