Andray Abrahamian and Daekwon Son, writing in their 7th November piece for 38north.org, discussed some potential corollaries of the the recent de-escalation between China and South Korea over the contentious THAAD issue.
They contend that this recent development is a “win-win” for China, arguing that:
While the timing was unexpected, Beijing stands to benefit from a compromise on this issue at least three major ways.
First, the agreement provides assurances from Seoul about China’s strategic position in the region.
Second, the rapprochement between China and South Korea creates a better political environment for Beijing to deal with the current North Korea crisis.
Finally, the agreement allows China to frame itself as the responsible power in the region while Trump is on his Asian tour.
Read the full piece here: http://www.38north.org/2017/11/abrahamianson110917/
While Trump’s twitter feed reads like a jilted 14 year old who cannot control his impulses, the ability of Chinese President to inculcate stability and promote regional co-operation does feel like a calming development (even if it is only for calculated economic reasons).
No longer “lips and teeth”
Relations between China and North Korea have eroded in recent years, punctuated most visibly by the North Korean 2013 execution of Jang Song-thaek, North Korea’s most prominent mediator with the Chinese government, and Kim Jung Un’s uncle-in-law.
In conjunction with the strengthening of diplomatic and economic ties (pre-THAAD) between China and ROK under the Park Geun-hye presidency, this is leading many regional observers to wonder to what extent does China actually wield diplomatic control over North Korea’s actions and policies?
Pivotal developments have cast doubt on this alliance. A much circulated editorial in China’s Global Times from August 2017 floated the notion that if North Korea were to pre-emptively launch “missiles that threaten U.S. soil and the U.S. retaliates, China [should] stay neutral”). This raises the crucial question: how willing China will be to honour its obligations under the 1961 Treaty of Friendship, Co-operation and Mutual Assistance?
The other important development is the economic leverage that China holds over North Korea; more specifically how faithfully will China comply with the July 2017’s UN Security Council’s unanimous 15-0 vote imposing new sanctions on North Korea, include a complete ban on coal, iron, and lead exports – a major source of foreign currency for Pyongyang.
As South Korea and China continue to cultivate their cultural, economic and diplomatic ties, it begs the question: how far can North Korea be driven to isolation as it remains sandwiched between these two states? And how can China ensure that this “win-win” situation remains?