North Korea is testing the patience of Beijingby John Garnaut / February 20, 2013 / Leave a comment
Published in March 2013 issue of Prospect Magazine
A North Korean propaganda poster ©Adrian Bradshaw/EPA/Corbis
The western world is once again hoping China will lean on its bellicose ally, North Korea, and prevent it from developing a credible nuclear weapon. It will once again be disappointed.
This is not because Xi Jinping, China’s new leader, enjoys watching his 29-year-old neighbour, Kim Jung-un, brandish a toy that could obliterate Beijing as readily as Tokyo or Seoul. Tuesday’s nuclear test took the Disney-loving dictator closer to a miniaturised warhead that can be fitted to his ballistic missiles.
Rather, Beijing and Pyongyang are locked in a loveless dance of shared history, common enemies and domestic political and dynastic imperatives from which neither can easily escape. China protects and nourishes its wayward neighbour as if they were “as close as lips and teeth”—an old expression of Mao’s that has come back into vogue. But it has always been more a grimace than a smile.