Xi Jinping’s China may have already begun to lose, if not already lost, its next door proxy and client North Korea. Ironically, even as it desperately works to project a big power image by setting up global infra banks, one road and one belt ideas, etc, China must be hopping mad at the challenges to its big power image thrown by its impoverished neighbour.
North Korea claimed on Wednesday to have successfully detonated a hydrogen bomb, a device potentially more powerful than an atomic bomb. Of course, the claim sounds spurious in view of the TNT yield of the explosion measured by Japan and US. But spurious or not, it’s not going to prevent the UN security council from discussing the issue in an emergency meeting on Wednesday, where China is expected to support certain sanctions against its long-time proxy from 1950-53 Korean civil war period.
Since North Korea depends for its survival on China’s generosity – in 2014, China accounted for 79 per cent of Pyongyang’ trade, up from 56 percent in 2010, the test, as well as lack of its advance notification to Beijing, shows that North Korea under its young leader Kim Jong Un has come of age. Possibly, the latter has rightly realized that China’s love for it is based on protecting its own interests along its 880 mile long border with it and to prevent unification of the two Koreas, so that it does not have a serious challenger next door. Having figured out China’s Achilles heel, Kim has shown greater propensity than his father in asserting himself and taking risks in blackmailing China.
In his four years in power, the North Korean leader, unlike his father who used to have regular meetings with top Chinese leaders, has not even once sat with Xi; on the contrary, he has snubbed efforts to restart China-backed disarmament talks. He even executed his pro-Beijing uncle Jang Song Thaek, who had promoted commercial links with China in December 2013. Kim had also made China furious in February that year by conducting a third nuclear test, leaving China with no option but to back U.S.-led efforts for more United Nations sanctions against the regime.
To signal his extreme displeasure with Kim, Xi , in July 2014, went on his first official visit to Seoul to meet Kim’s nemesis, President Park Geun Hye. He has also hosted Park for a summit in Beijing.
While the test may persuade China to further cooperate with western powers at the UN to contain North Korea, it is at the same time gravely apprehensive about a possible US move to place a missile defence system in South Korea to counter North Korea’s improving weaponry. This is reflected in its warning to South Korea against pursuing deployment of the Terminal High Altitude Area Defence anti-ballistic missile system, which Park’s ruling party members have been lobbying to obtain to counter the nuclear threat from the North.
Written by: M K Shukla