China-N.Korea pact looks shaky

New Straits Times - - World -

BEI­JING: When North Korea’s founder Kim Il-sung vis­ited Bei­jing to sign a mu­tual de­fence pact with China in 1961, he was com­forted by the mil­i­tary pro­tec­tion promised by his fel­low com­mu­nist neigh­bours.

But, half a cen­tury and a few North Korean nu­clear tests later, the agree­ment is begin­ning to look like a musty Cold War relic that China would rather for­get.

De­spite their al­liance in the 1950-1953 Korean War, an­a­lysts ques­tioned whether Bei­jing would now rush to Py­ongyang’s de­fence in a mil­i­tary con­fronta­tion with the United States and South Korea.

Chi­nese leader Mao Ze­dong once de­scribed the neigh­bours as be­ing as “close as lips and teeth”. For his part, Kim told Mao that sign­ing the Treaty of Friend­ship, Co­op­er­a­tion and Mu­tual As­sis­tance “raised our con­fi­dence, and we feel safe­guarded”, ac­cord­ing to a memoir of Mao’s diplo­matic activities pub­lished in 2003.

But, the two lead­ers are long dead and China, which is now the world’s sec­ond largest econ­omy and a pil­lar of global or­der, ap­pears less en­thu­si­as­tic about pro­tect­ing its treaty part­ner in a con­flict that es­ti­mates sug­gest could cost hun­dreds of thou­sands of lives and lay waste to Seoul.

The cur­rent lead­ers of both na­tions, Chi­nese Pres­i­dent Xi Jin­ping and North Korea’s Kim Jong-un, have never even met.

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