The 5.1-magnitude explosion at North Korea’s Punggye-ri nuclear testing site this month didn’t shake China’s loyalty to the Kim regime in Pyongyang. While U.S. and South Korean leaders increasingly call for crippling sanctions intended to make Kim Jong Un choose between his regime’s survival and its nuclear program, China may not support even an incremental tightening of sanctions at the United Nations.
As experts around the world typically tell it, China protects its despotic and often uncooperative neighbor for two main reasons: It doesn’t want instability in North Korea to send refugees and other chaos across its border, and it doesn’t want U.S. or U.S.-allied South Korean troops deploying along that frontier. But other factors carry significant weight, too—namely, communist solidarity, the legacy of Mao Zedong and the importance of ideology in Chinese decision-making.
North Korea is no mere Chinese client state (as, say, Burma used to be). It is a formal communist ally, and the crucible that forged the alliance—the Korean War—remains an important part of China’s Mao mythology. To undermine North Korea, then, would risk a self-inflicted ideological blow that Chinese leaders may be unwilling to accept. Especially if it means siding with the U.S., China’s old Korean War foe that Beijing increasingly portrays as an enemy again today.
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Image courtesy of AP
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