Not like brothers anymoreIn December 2014, a reception for outgoing Chinese Ambassador to North Korea Liu Hongcai was held in Pyongyang. Diplomats from the U.K., Russian and German missions in Pyongyang were invited, but North Korean Foreign Ministry officials were nowhere to be found. A Chinese embassy official who had visited Dandong was quarantined on his way back, a preventative measure against the worldwide Ebola outbreak. The official argued he must attend the reception, but his plea was not accepted. The embassy’s protests didn’t help either.
He snuck out and went to Pyongyang, but security and quarantine authorities surrounded the Chinese Embassy. After a 30-minute power cut, the embassy released the official. This account from sources in Shenyang and Dandong tipped me off on the current state of China-North Korea relations.
While these stories are hard to believe, there are many episodes illustrating a chilly mood between Pyongyang and Beijing. The Chinese Embassy website posts the ambassador’s schedule, but there hasn’t been a post about incoming Ambassador Li Jinjun meeting with Kim Jong-un. It’s been five months since he arrived in Pyongyang.
In 2013, the Xi Jinping leadership introduced change in the blood brotherhood between Beijing and Pyongyang after North Korea conducted the third nuclear test. “The War Supporting North Korea against the United States” was renamed a more neutral “Korean War,” and China has been following United Nations sanctions on North Korea for the last two years. Pyongyang isn’t hiding resentment.
The feelings were warmer when Kim Jong-il was alive. In August 2010, President Hu Jintao welcomed Kim in Changchun. Kim’s toast was filled with the desperation and nervousness of an aging leader. He had already decided to hand over power to his third son, Kim Jong-un.
“I hope the big brother will hold hands with the younger until the end and play a big role in accomplishing reunification on the Korean Peninsula. ... Let’s toast the brothers!” he said, according to Lee Soo-hyuk, former chief delegate for the six-party talks, in his book “North Korea is Reality.”
When tensions rise on the peninsula, the United States and China have dealt with the South and North, respectively. But the two powers revealed subtle changes after the land mine incident. With President Park Geun-hye scheduled to attend the victory day celebration, China remained neutral, asking Seoul and Pyongyang not to escalate the situation. Externally, the rupture between Pyongyang and Beijing seems unusual, but since China’s will to maintain the status quo is solid, we shouldn’t be too stirred by every single move. The United States wants to seal off China with a Korea-U.S.-Japan alliance, while China is targeting the weakest link, Korea. Seoul and Pyongyang now seem to be seizing an extraordinary opportunity.
*The author is a deputy political news editor at JTBC.
JoongAng Ilbo, Aug. 27, Page 34
by CHEONG YONG-WHAN