IS CHINA'S COMMUNIST LEADERSHIP TIRED OF NORTH KOREA'S KIM JONG-UN?
There are scattered reports that China’s communist leadership are tired of Kim Jong-un and North Korea’s provocations in the region.
China has announced that it is not buying coal this year from North Korea, a major source of income for Kim Jong-un to the tune of about 12 percent of the North’s exports. China actually backed sanctions against the North for the first time. The Chinese decision comes after North Korea test-fired a land-based variant of its KN-11 or Pukkuksong-2 Intermediate Range Ballistic Missile (IRBM). The Chinese Foreign Ministry condemned the launch. This follows two nuclear tests and 24 missile launches by North Korea last year. Then there is the bizarre recent assassination of Kim Jong-un’s half-brother Kim Jong-nam in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. He had been living in China under Chinese protection and many believe China is offended by this act of barbarism. There are some thoughts that if China had engineered a coup in the North that Kim Jong-nam might have been their choice as a new puppet leader. At the end of the day, North Korea’s closest ally is China, and everyone is looking to China to reign in Kim Jong-un and his regime before it goes too far.
Secretary of Defense Mattis’s first overseas visit was to South Korea and Japan to shore-up the two key Pacific allies, and to warn off China and the North from further aggressive behavior. Secretary Mattis made clear the American view on the North’s practice of test-firing missiles and ‘sabre rattling’ when he warned that the United States and South Korea would deploy Theater High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) by year end. Mattis further cautioned that any use of nuclear weapons by North Korea would be met with an “overwhelming” response. For China this appears to have been the proverbial ‘last straw.’ Chinese and North Korea theater-level missiles are both vulnerable to THAAD and the one thing China does not want is THAAD next door.
Fair or not, North Korea’s bad behavior reflects on China and the bad news is that China appears increasingly un-nerved, frustrated and dismayed by the North. The Chinese appear to be concerned that Kim Jong-un is getting more erratic and have asked the United States to enter into direct talks with the North about its nuclear program, something the United States has refused to do for almost two decades. The Chinese plea comes just before joint American and South Korean exercises. The question now is what will the North Koreans do next? Will the Chinese tolerate their neighbor’s bad acts or will it lash out at the North with Chinese interests increasingly at risk in the region?