USA TODAY US Edition
-North Korea test spotlights ally China,
West wants to stop threats to neighbors, end rogue nuclear program
BEIJING — North Korea’s impending launch of what appears to be a ballistic missile capable of hitting the United States puts a spotlight on China, the North’s closest ally and benefactor.
China has insisted publicly to the U.S. that it has little influence over the weapons programs of its reclusive neighbor, even though it is the North’s largest provider of food, fuel and industrial machinery, according to the Congressional Research Service.
While the U.S. State Department presses China to use its influence to stop the launch, foreign policy experts say China is urging restraint because its aims differ from those of the U.S.
“China has less influence than we think, but more than it uses,” said Stephanie Kleine-ahlbrandt, Northeast Asia director for the International Crisis Group.
The West’s priority is for North Korea to stop threatening its neighbors and end an illegal nuclear program that is suspected of transferring nuclear technology to other states, such as Syria. But China’s communist leadership’s priority is to ensure the impoverished dictatorship does not erupt in revolution or uprisings, experts say.
China fears a flood of refugees more than North Korea’s uranium-enrichment program or missile technology, and sees the North as a useful buffer between it and U.s.-backed democratic South Korea, Kleine-ahlbrandt said.
Even for Chinese researchers, the nation’s dealings with North Korea are “like a black hole,” said Shen Dingli, a foreign policy specialist at Shanghai’s Fudan University.
“We don’t know how the government and parties of the two countries actually interact, but the reality is that North Korea is not persuaded (to abandon the launch), so we do not have effective influence,” said Shen Dingli, a foreign policy specialist at Shanghai’s Fudan University.
Shen said he believes the West will eventually be forced to accept North Korea’s nuclear-missile capability, given China’s stance. That does not mean China is in favor of North Korea’s actions, some experts said.
“China wants most a calm Asia to improve its own economy,” and North Korea’s actions threaten that priority, said Bruce Klingner, a former chief of the CIA’S Korea branch and now an analyst at the Heritage Foundation.
Klingner said a rift has appeared among China’s leadership over how to handle the North. He says “old school” leaders see North Korea as an ally going back to the 1950s-era Korean War that must be defended. They feel China must prop up North Korea’s communist regime to maintain a buffer from South Korea, which many younger Chinese admire for its pop culture, he said.
Klingner said “new school” leaders see China’s future on the Korean Peninsula more aligned with South Korea, whose strong economy can help China maintain the economic growth it needs to absorb new workers in the job market and avoid unrest that would result from a stalled economy.
“The new school sees North Korea as an anachronism, an irksome ally that could drag China into a crisis it doesn’t want,” he said.
As a result, Chinese policy is “on both sides of the fence at once, openly condemning North Ko- rea’s actions as it has in the past, but not going too far, at least publicly, in punishing North Korea,” Klingner said.
Zhang Li, 32, was looking at captured U.S. military vehicles from the Korean War inside Beijing’s Military Museum when asked about China’s relationship with the North. “The war doesn’t seem worthwhile today, but at the time it was necessary as China feared U.S. designs,” Zhang said. “North Korea’s satellite and nuclear tests are not good for China’s security. I doubt China has as much influence now as it once had.”