Is Kim Jong-Un subdued by China?

Kim Jong-un warned the world that his country will keep building up its nuclear arsenal regardless of sanctions, political or military pressure. North Korea tested an intercontinental ballistic missile. It’s North Korea’s 11th missile test this year. The launch “ignores repeated warnings from the international community,” and “shows its threat was further increased”, sayd Japanese Prime Minister. The risk is confirmed by All Things Nuclear blog: that rocket “would not be enough to reach the lower 48 states or the large islands of Hawaii, but would allow it to reach all of Alaska.” China’s U.N. ambassador warned that further escalation of already high tensions with North Korea risks getting out of control, “and the consequences would be disastrous.”

kim jong un china north korea

When Japan left the Korean Peninsula in August of 1945, the USSR installed a communist government in the North with Kim Il-sung as its leader – hand picked by Joseph Stalin himself. China’s support for North Korea instead dates back to the Korean War (1950–1953). In 1961 China and North Korea made a military treaty, it is automatically renewed every 20 years. Each government must intervene in support of the other if there is an aggression. So if North Korea were to suffer a US attack, Beijing should intervene militarily in defense of the ally. Today China is North Korea’s most important ally, not only militarily. It is biggest trading partner, and main source of food and energy and it accounts for upwards of 90 percent of North Korea’s total trade volume. North Korea has good worth of natural resources but the dictatorship is unable to fully exploit worth of that and even if it were able to do so the rulers are too corrupt.

In 2014 China openly criticised a UN report which outlined the human rights abuse in North Korea, involving torture, forced starvation and crimes against humanity.  In 2015, the two countries opened a bulk cargo and container  shipping route and they established a high-speed rail route to boost North Korea’s export to China. Beijing have wide-ranging ties with Pyongyang also with high-level state trips such as senior Chinese Communist Party member Liu Yunshan’s visit to attend the seventieth anniversary of North Korea’s ruling party in 2015.

Those ties have deteriorated after VX nerve agent had killed Kim Jong-nam, the half brother of the North Korea’s leader. The disclosure that a chemical weapon banned under international treaties was used in the attack caused a lot of tension  between the two countries. Particularly after Beijing decided to cut off coal imports that provide badly needed currency for the North’s economy. In addition the presence of the US military and President Donald Trump’s unpredictable behaviour has only made the tension in the Korean Peninsula more palpable. “If China is not going to solve North Korea, we will”, President Trump has warned that Washington will be prepared to take action against Pyongyang if Beijing remains unwilling to exert more pressure on North Korea.

Actually throughout history between the two countries the relationship was not always perfect.”Chinese leaders have no love for Kim Jong-un’s regime or its nuclear weapons, but it dislikes even more the prospect of North Korea’s collapse and the unification of the Korean Peninsula with Seoul as the capital,” writes Richard N. Haass, President of American CFR – Council on Foreign Relations. As a matter of fact, China’s policies have done little to deter its North Korea’s nuclear ambitions, but officially Beijing, Seoul, and Washington agree that a denuclearized North Korea is a top priority. The differences appear to exist on how to strip the country of its nuclear threat. China think the only solution is one that involves diplomacy and getting North Korea to the table but at the same time it wishing to avoid conflict.

The reason for Chinese behaving may be Beijing has always viewed North Korea as a “vassal country.” China could use Kim Jong-un to act as a proxy and he implements the will of China. That is the best way to stay out of sight and the way to not create enemies in the international comunity. China has chosen to stay within the international community rather than go outside it. That is their main target.

The best North Korea watchers are divided how much power the young Kim wields. The possibility that Kim Jong Un is a puppet ruler, controlled by the elites in North Korea’s government, similarly to the case of the Japanese emperor in the 1800s, is hardly credible. The Kim family is still the most powerful and Kim Jong Un is, individually, the richest and most powerful person in North Korea. During the last two years, Kim Jong-un has been directly responsible for a number of strategic policy initiatives, including the acceleration of the development of weapons of mass destruction. Instead, it would appear conceivable that Kim Jong-un is supreme leader and a puppet at the same time. In a symbiotic relationship, he and the elite officials are living from Chinese umbilical cord. The imperator and all his courtiers still need each other, but especially they need support of China to survive. They are putty in China hands.

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