Resetting Sino-North relations

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Resetting Sino-North relations

The opening yesterday of the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference signals the official launch of a new Chinese leadership with Xi Jinping as president and Li Keqiang as prime minister. The political consultative meeting is the supreme advisory body of China, and the National People’s Congress, which opens tomorrow, is equivalent to our National Assembly. The fifth-generation leaders to be picked in the two political events will herald the opening of the full-fledged Xi Jinping era in about two weeks.

The next 10 years will be an important period for China. As China will most likely replace the U.S. as the No. 1 economy in the world, China must confront enormous internal challenges, ranging from rooting out the prevalent corruption to easing of the widening wealth gap to political reform. Externally, China must deal with Obama’s “pivot to Asia” strategy while managing territorial disputes. Not less important is its ties with North Korea. Unless Beijing effectively resets its relations with Pyongyang to meet the demands of the new era, it will certainly bring a serious security threat to China, the Korean Peninsula and Northeast Asia.

After Pyongyang’s third nuclear test last month, a strong anti-North sentiment is brewing across China, as seen by a series of demonstrations in protest of the nuclear test, including its netizens’ growing complaints against China’s aid to the North. Even a core architect of China’s communism argued Beijing must abandon Pyongyang in a contribution to The Financial Times last week. Deng Yuwen, the deputy editor of the Study Times, the journal of the Central Party School of the Communist Party of China, stressed that China should give up on North Korea and help facilitate reunification following Seoul’s initiative. The remarks can be translated into a warning to Pyongyang as it reflects the changed atmosphere in the Chinese leadership.

Given the delay in adopting a tougher UN Security Council resolution against Pyongyang, Beijing’s current leadership still seems to prioritize security over denuclearization. China’s judgment - that maintaining the status quo in North Korea can better promote China’s interests than denuclearization - is outmoded. When U.S. nuclear bombs can target the entire region of China, Beijing’s belief that North Korea can still serve as a buffer zone doesn’t make sense. Leading the North toward the path of reform and opening through normalized relationships with Pyongyang can better foster China’s national interests. With the advent of the Xi era, we hope Beijing resets its relations with Pyongyang to meet the demands of the new era.

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