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China’s ties with North Korea fraying

June 06,2009
They started out as blood brothers, making sacrifices for each other on the battlefield.

But China and North Korea are now faced with the biggest crisis of their 60-year diplomatic relationship.

The ties between the two countries were at their strongest during the Korean War, when more than 100,000 Chinese soldiers died fighting for North Korea. But those ties have frayed since North Korea conducted its second nuclear test last week. The Chinese Foreign Ministry, in an unusually strong response to the North, said it is “firmly opposed” to the act and urged Pyongyang to “stop relevant moves that may further worsen the situation.”

The North then called the five permanent members of the United Nations Security Council ? a group that includes China ? “hypocrites” for trying to punish it, as those countries have conducted nearly all of the nuclear tests in history. Further straining the relationship, sources in Beijing recently said that the Chinese government is reviewing its North Korean policy.

The change in stance by China could alter the power structure in the region, and relations among China, Russia and North Korea might break down.

It’s a tense situation, as the countries have been comrades for decades.

China deployed its troops to the North during the Korean War despite political chaos and economic instability at home. Mao Anying, the oldest son of former Chinese leader Mao Zedong, was killed in action during the war and is buried in North Korea.

The instrumental figures in the founding of North Korea all belonged to the Northeast Anti-Japanese United Army. The Manchuria-based guerilla unit consisted of members of the Chinese Communist Party and North Korean partisans.

Over the years, high-ranking Chinese officials have paid visits to the North, while Kim Jong-il and others have visited Beijing.

The relationship has certain had some stormy periods. During China’s Cultural Revolution in the 1960s, North Korea criticized the country for dogmatism. Following the Cold War, China established diplomatic ties with South Korea, prompting the North to call china “a traitor who succumbed to imperialism.” The tide, however, turned in 1996 when China agreed to provide energy and food aid.

Despite some conflict in the past, the current tensions between the North and China are different this time around. Most of the North Korean partisans who went to war with China are dead; the few living ones are no longer serving in any official capacity.

And, perhaps most importantly, China and North Korea appear to be clashing over strategic interests.

“North Korea’s nuclear possession raises the question of whether South Korea or Japan should also possess nuclear power,” said Baek Seung-joo, head of the Center for Security and Strategy at the Korea Institute for Defense Analyses. “And that threatens China’s standing as the nuclear power in northeast Asia. And the instability caused by the nuclear issue is an obstacle to China’s march toward attaining global economic dominance.”


By Chae Byung-gun [jeeho@joongang.co.kr]




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