Discussion Section: How Much More North Korea Can China Put Up With?

It was disappointing, if unsurprising, that China failed to condemn North Korea in the wake of the Cheonan incident. And while everyone who isn’t a DPRK ally seems to agree that the presence of pieces from a North Korean torpedo amidst the ship’s wreckage might indicate guilt, China’s skepticism and, moreover, unwillingness to threaten its own ally is understandable.

But if North Korea is going to shoot Chinese citizens in Chinese territory, how much longer can this relationship last? The “investigation” process is underway, but you can bet that behind closed doors Beijing is pretty miffed about this, given how much they’ve done for the DPRK in the past few months. Regardless of whether the three men shot dead were engaged in illegal trade, they were Chinese citizens, on Chinese soil.

The DPRK only has three neighbors, and in the past few months, it has killed people from two of them on their own soil ((I’m counting “territorial waters” as soil here for the purposes of the sentence sounding cool.)). How much more shielding can they expect from allies whose citizens they are murdering?

Housekeeping Notes

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  • Apologies for the recent lack of updates and substantial posts. Posting will continue to be light for the next week or so, as I am embroiled in the tiresome process of uprooting my life and switching countries (again). Starting next Tuesday, expect few or no updates for a week, and potentially longer: I’m moving to Beijing, but I have no job ((I do have some interviews lined up, but if you know of jobs for foreigners in media, journalism, translation, writing, marketing, or basically anything that isn’t teaching English, please let me know!)) and no apartment yet. I won’t rent an apartment before I find a job, and even once I find an apartment, it will likely take a little time to get an internet connection set up. I may occasionally check in via internet cafe, but I enjoy having functional lungs, so I try to minimize the time I spend in those places.

    The other reason there have been fewer updates recently is that I’m working on another ChinaGeeks-related project, which I’m still not quite ready to announce. Expect to hear something about that shortly after I arrive in China, though, if not before then.

    Anyway, as previously stated, there will be updates between now and when I leave; just wanted to give everyone an early heads up. We do have a great post from K. Drinhausen coming up soon so stay tuned for that!

0 thoughts on “Discussion Section: How Much More North Korea Can China Put Up With?”

  1. You know, I saw an article about this which I agree with:


    In terms of a political chess game between China and North Korea, I think it would go very bad for China if China decides to abandon North Korea. South Korea doesn’t seem to be interested in taking North Korean refugees, but China would be left holding the bag. Until then China plays stalemate.


  2. China has not taken part in investigation and is rightfully carefull not to embrace it… It is not at all certain that NK has sunk the ship. Why would Nk do it? It could not bring anything good to her, only tensions and danger of further actions of international community against her.

    there are several good articles about Cheonan and China’s role at atimes portal and here is one of them:


    It would be reasonable to assume that the incidents like the one with three alleged smugglers being killed happen quite often on the border that is crossed illegally many times in both directions on the daily basis. That China picked up on it now may mean that it is a PR stunt, that it wants to avoid being blamed for weakness and appear strong in the eyes of its citizens and world that think she should do more about NK.

    Or maybe out of the serious interest in protecting its citizens.But in this case, only to a certain point: unfortunately, if few people ever mattered once it comes to international relations, security or high politics that would be the end of the politics that we know.

    Desoite the fact that 3 chinize citizens have been killed, and that NK is burden for Beijing in the context of its foreign policy goals, China interest in maintaining stability in the Korean Peninsula and managing the northern neighbour so it does not create problems for her will always have priority in her considerations. So, to your question – they can expect some more shielding.


  3. China will continue to support North Korea as long as they see a strategic benefit in it. Not only does a sustained North Korea regime mean that China can postpone dealing with a refugee crisis, it also means that it maintains a committed ally on its northeast border. A unified Korea (which seems to be the likely outcome of China turning on North Korea) would have much less loyalty.

    The North Korea situation actually kind of gives me hope for Taiwan. Even though N Korea is almost entirely dependent on China for its economic well-being, China has almost no leverage over it. Even if Taiwan moves closer to China, with strong economic ties, will China really be able to gain any more leverage over them that they do over N Korea?


  4. ” It is not at all certain that NK has sunk the ship. Why would Nk do it? It could not bring anything good to her, only tensions and danger of further actions of international community against her.”

    You’re right. It was Somalian pirates who sunk the ship and then planted pieces of a North Korean torpedo there to fool us all!

    In all seriousness, I don’t think the North Korean government, (Kim Jong Il) thinks about the repercussions too much when they act. Consider, for example, the innumerable reports of kidnapping Korean and Japanese citizens, and even movie stars! Or that time when they were digging tunnels into South Korea and upon being discovered, claimed they were coal mines. They followed up with painting the rocks black instead of, you know, planting actual lumps of coal there.

    There’s also that time when they fired a missile over Japanese airspace. Or that other time when they kidnapped two American reporters near Jilin and sentenced them to 12 years in prison for an unspecified “grave offense.”

    Do those things strike you as the actions of a carefully planning and calculating leader such as, oh, Hu Jintao or Wen Jiabao?

    Personally, I’m sure there will be just be some more shielding. But if the government was smart, they’d do some CIA or Mossad style shit where they promote their own man inside the North Korean regime and then when the time is right, simply assassinate Kim Jong Il.


  5. Josh,

    Firing missiles in japanese airspace has the function of making others aware of NK’s military capability and would certainly not provoke anyone into war(it actually keeps that from going into war) that event such as Cheonan incident had potential to do. It was very well planed and calculated.

    for paranoid Nk regime two american journalist trying to cross the border is easily interpreted as intelligence gathering or provocation. Also no way anyone would go to war for that.

    Same goes for all the other examples you gave above, if true.

    But sinking a navy ship and killing SK’s marines could potentialy do so. So why would NK risk it?

    China and Russia do not automatically support NK, and even less NK going crazy. They do not want nuclear Korea, tensions nor american / SK military build up in response. They would be very very angry if they were convinced it was NK that sunk the ship and there is no indication that they were / are.


  6. Your reasoning is essentially that the murder or kidnap of civilians would not provoke military response and that a display of force would prevent military action. Without going into detail with examples, I disagree with this reasoning. Whether Japan or South Korea would act on such provocation is questionable, but Israel and the US have shown us in the past that they will, the former of which did so in the form of preemptive strike on those perceived as aggressive nations.

    Also, you’re stating that there’s no indication that it was North Korea who sunk that ship. I’ll cite this page, which Custer linked at the top:


    I’ll quote the particularly important bit:

    ‘On May 20, the investigation team (South Korea, U.S., U.K., Sweden, Australia and Canada) released their report in which they concluded that the sinking of the warship was in fact the result of a North Korean torpedo attack, commenting that “The evidence points overwhelmingly to the conclusion that the torpedo was fired by a North Korean submarine.”‘

    “The North Korean Central News Agency released a response to the investigation on May 28, 2010, primarily asserting that it is unbelievable that part of a torpedo doing so much damage to a ship would survive.[51]”

    Wicked counter argument. I’m totally flabbergasted.


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