However, on this point, China’s analysis has been completely wrong, for it underestimates the Kim regime’s unmanageable desperation whenever it believes its survival to be in doubt. Moreover, North Korea does not want to be beholden to any power, including China. Therefore, it exploits China’s goodwill and national-security concerns, and even regards Chinese patronage as its due.
A further complication concerns North Korea’s nuclear aspirations. The North appears to be convinced that, with nuclear weapons, it can maintain complete diplomatic independence, and that China, fearing nuclear blackmail, will never abandon it.
However, it is now North Korea’s turn to make a mistake. Kim’s childish tantrums have genuinely enraged China. Yes, the country’s leaders have sometimes complained about the heavy burden of subsidizing North Korea, but until now, they had never shown such open disgust with the North’s performance.
China’s warning that it will not allow North Korean “troublemaking on China’s doorstep” can be considered the equivalent of a “yellow card” in soccer.
China has not decided to abandon North Korea, but the warning is a stern one for Kim: China may send him to the sidelines if he does not change his behavior.
US Secretary of State John Kerry is set to visit Beijing in the coming days. It is now time for US and Chinese leaders to negotiate a real and viable exit from the current crisis, while productively exploring ways to restart the denuclearization process on the Korean Peninsula. If Kim’s bombast and nuclear threats lead to China-US bonding over a joint North Korea settlement, the entire world will be the safer for it.
Zhu Feng (朱鋒) is deputy director of the Center for International Studies and professor of international relations at Peking University.
Copyright: Project Syndicate