Thursday, May 27, 2010

Cheonan and China

James Zimmerman, an international lawyer based in Beijing, has an excellent piece in the NY Times explaining China's perspective on the situation. On the recent visit by the guy in high heels:

"While the visit by North Korean leader Kim Jong-il to China in early May was driven by an immediate need for aid and investment, Kim spent much time taking lessons from the Chinese by touring the coastal cities of Dalian and Tianjin, which the hosts promoted as models of economic growth and development. The message was that what worked for China might work for North Korea.
Participating in the entourage was Jang Song-thaek, Kim’s brother-in-law and chief of foreign investment, and Kim Yang-gon, the head of Korea Taepung International Investment Group, which is an agency created this year to channel $10 billion from China to build ports, roads, railways and tourist infrastructure. This huge investment amounts to almost 70 percent of North Korea’s domestic gross product. (my emphasis)
Later this year, it is anticipated that foreign investment (primarily from China) will be allowed in eight major cities of North Korea, and not just in state-sponsored foreign economic zones."
This is very different interpretation from what many of  the papers here presented.  They said the Chinese signaled their frustration with Kim and he was turned away from Beijing empty handed. The trips to Dalian and Tianjin were presented as sightseeing of China's success rather than a learning opportunity. Looking forward:
"China’s priority in its relations with North Korea is stability, since the collapse of the North could result in a flood of refugees into China. China is also wary that an abrupt change of regime would improve chances for unification with the South and thus enhance U.S. military power in the region. So when Kim Jong-il dies, China will likely support his chosen heirs."
 "China is also attracted by the strategic and commercial opportunities in North Korea, namely raw materials, an even cheaper work force than its own, and access to one of Asia’s northern-most ice-free ports on the Sea of Japan."
Unsaid, but true, is human rights is not a priority for China. China, with it's own propensity to jail those who express opinions that run counter to the regime's interest, is in no position to criticize the North Koreans.

As usual in these conflicts, the major powers (China and the US) are trying to jockey for what is best in their own interest in the long term. Unfortunately for the North Koreans, Chinese interest seem to be to keep the brutal regime in power regardless of the toll on the people. The US interest would open the market to a staunch ally (South Korea) but in the process give freedom and democracy to the people.

What is in nobody's interest is a war, so it seems unlikely that there will be one.  On the other hand, when things are this tense, accidents (and then wars) happen.

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