China’s Long, Fruitless History of Irritation With North Korea

Just how steadfast is China's support of North Korea?

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HOW HWEE YOUNG / EPA

A visitor looks at a scene from the Korean War in the painting gallery at the Museum to Commemorate the War to Resist American Aggression and Aid Korea, in Dandong, China, on April 7, 2013

Just how steadfast is China’s support of North Korea? It is a question that has been asked by outsiders since the Korean Peninsula was divided after World War II. Given the secrecy of the two allies, concrete answers are hard to find. And wrong conclusions, as when General Douglas MacArthur and President Harry Truman underestimated China’s support for its communist ally when U.S.-led U.N. forces stormed north in 1950, can have disastrous consequences.

So it’s worth paying attention when Chinese President Xi Jinping weighs in on the issue, or at least appeared to, at the Boao Forum on the Chinese island of Hainan. “No one should be allowed to throw the region or even the whole world into chaos for selfish gains,” Xi said Sunday. The new Chinese leader didn’t single out North Korea, but given the near daily threats and provocations emerging from Pyongyang in recent weeks, it was seen by many observers as a likely target of the criticism.

(PHOTOS: North Korea Ratchets Up Tensions on the Peninsula)

The White House also seems to detect a shift in China’s support for North Korea, the New York Times has reported. But Gregory Kulacki, China project manager with the Union of Concerned Scientists argues that the U.S. media have exaggerated any movement in China’s stance. “The idea that China would change its policy on North Korea because of security concerns is so well-entrenched in the minds of U.S. officials and reporters that this ‘subtle change’ in China’s thinking about North Korea was taking place in a 2003 episode of The West Wing,” he wrote in a post on the All Things Nuclear blog.

The expectations go back even further than that. In the early 1990s, after the fall of the Soviet Union and China’s establishment of diplomatic ties with South Korea, discussions of Sino–North Korean ties frequently mentioned China’s growing anger. “The self-styled North Korean Great Leader, Kim Il Sung, sometimes describes China as his country’s ‘large rear area,’” the Times’ Nicholas Kristof wrote in a 1993 story headlined “China and North Korea: Not-So-Best of Friends.” “Mr. Kim does not mean any insult, and if he has a sense of humor he hides it better than his nuclear weapons program. But it is true enough that China these days feels that it is being treated as North Korea’s large rear area.”

(MORE: Poker on the Korean Peninsula: Why Kim Jong Un Keeps Raising the Stakes)

Two decades, two North Korean leaders and three nuclear tests later, China is still perturbed with North Korea. A nuclear armed North Korea is frightening to Beijing, but so too is a unified, U.S.-aligned Korean Peninsula and the prospect of an unchecked flow of starving refugees crossing the Yalu River. For all its criticism of Pyongyang, Beijing is unlikely to push its brittle ally to the brink.

Two days after Xi’s speech, the overseas edition of the People’s Daily, the Chinese Communist Party’s mouthpiece, ran a front-page editorial discussing just who China’s leader was referencing when he complained about countries throwing the world into chaos for selfish gains. The first two specific cases named were Iraq and Afghanistan. “Some countries spend billions but still can’t fix the problem, can’t think of a way to exit and trigger their own fiscal and financial crises,” the paper wrote, in a clear reference to the U.S. It proceeded to scold the West for “fanning the flames” of unrest in the Middle East and North Africa and “outside nations or those who wish to interfere with China’s peaceful development” for stirring up problems in the East and South China seas. As for North Korea, it dismissed the situation in a sentence, saying merely the involved parties “should not seek the worst possible outcome.”

MORE: Trying to Plumb the North Korean Mind-Set

41 comments
jefforsythe9
jefforsythe9

This article tries to give us the impression that the brutal Chinese Communist Party cares about humanity in any way whatsoever, it does not. The brutal Chinese Communist Party has murdered 100 million of its own people since 1949 and since 1999 has been attempting the genocide of tens of millions of innocent Falun Gong practitioners by the use of torture, slavery, organ harvesting and murder. The Western Media and Governments have taken a see no evil, hear no evil and speak no evil approach when it comes to these atrocities because of corporate greed. Thank you for your consideration.

GrahamMiles
GrahamMiles

@jefforsythe9 The Chinese used to live under a totally different leadership but today the new ruler wants peace and to have good allies. Things and times have changed my friend. Please give the Chinese a chance. They have come a long way and they still have a history to live with. Everyone in the world is guilty of the same thing. Read your history books.


oldwhiteguy
oldwhiteguy

Clearly, cool heads need to prevail here.  The issue is more complicated than most Americans perceive.  They feel that Kim is simply Nutcase Jr.  In fact, China is tolerating and propping these guys up for the reasons articulated in this article.  It's important to remember that NK isn't going to attack anybody.  They are a pit bull on a leash designed to bark at the back door.  The problem is that our media prefers to run footage of rockets going off and troops marching instead of any real journalistic insight into what's going on.  War is more fun to watch than diplomacy.  Shooting is easier than patience.  Maybe that's why we've been fighting somebody somewhere for the last sixty years.  Good thing Cheney doesn't have the car keys anymore.

tentukotta.com
tentukotta.com

Peoples are in need of Love. Not wars.. Make Love each other.. Don't expose your egoism among countries.. Presidents of countries.. please act like a Human not like Politician... 

nofaith
nofaith

The nexus between China and N. Korea is far more complicated than it appears to be, but politics aside, there was never a harmonious relation between the two even in the Korean War. 

A daily army of trucks loaded with goods for sustenance are found moving between the border, and the help is regarded by the N. Korea as a natural duty. Everybody knows the Chinese People's Volunteers helped to defend the so-called fake "U.N. forces", but inside N. Korea they were educated to believe it was a war between the North Korea and U.S.A & S. Korea, which makes the people in the North confident in defeating the US again.

North Korea has long become a burden to China, but also a key factor in keeping the powers in NE Asia region in balance. In my opinion, those who try to get selfish gains are JP, USA and NK. China and S. Korea are the least one who want to see North Korea's regime stepping into the unstable.

Beersheva
Beersheva

If China is the Nork's "large rear area", then the Korean peninsula is China's dong. I wonder which one is worse.

formerlyjames
formerlyjames

At least this disturbance is understandable, but it diverts attention from the poor Syrian crisis, which is confusing at best.  I think we need to ask Russia about it all and possibly join in resolutions.   

GrahamMiles
GrahamMiles

@formerlyjames You made a very good point about asking Russia. They, too, are becoming a very good country to know. After all they have also come a long way throughout history just like everyone else in this world.


BlackieCloud
BlackieCloud like.author.displayName like.author.displayName 2 Like

China's little lap dog may be the best thing that happenend to jobless Americans. Surely after the lap dog does something really stupid, with the protection of China behind the lap dog, Americans will realize their American dollars buying all the worthless junk China sells at Walmarts around the world, are paying for it and will begin to BOYCOTT chinese junk and demand the Walmart clear the shelves of Chinese junk and start filling the shelfs with American made products, (Everything except junk Whielpool washing machines). Every dollar spent on imported Chinese junk just makes China stronger by the day. Why can Americans not see this? Are they all that stupid??????????

GrahamMiles
GrahamMiles

@BlackieCloud You aught to be ashamed of yourself. What Chinese junk? This is called 'cross border trading'. You're just bigoted and show only preference for the US. There are a lot of good countries in this world that make things just as good as the US and in some cases even better. eg: Canada is supplying NASA with a computer more powerful than the ones they have now. Just on example. Have a nice day.

daniel_guibord
daniel_guibord

@BlackieCloudChinese tourists are traveling to the U.S. with the money of American citizens, that they got with their low quality products—a lot of which are pirated American products—and sold in America through the net effective equivalent of dumping, as a result of the Chinese government’s control on their currency.

During the Cold War, we used to say “Buy a Lada and send a dissident to camp”. Today we should say “Buy a Chinese product and send an American to unemployment, social welfare and homelessness”

Read more: http://business.time.com/2013/04/09/how-the-u-s-travel-industry-is-adapting-to-a-growing-wave-of-chinese-tourists/#ixzz2Q2i0nP45

LuwianMemories
LuwianMemories

@BlackieCloud 

All that "junk" that China makes is actually killing them with pollution, so no, China is not getting stronger unless they clean up the environment in China first.

JennyMark89
JennyMark89

just before I looked at the bank draft of $4730, I did not believe that my neighbour was like they say realey erning money in there spare time on their apple laptop.. there great aunt has been doing this for only eleven months and a short time ago cleared the dept on there home and purchased a gorgeous BMW. we looked here,Great60.comCHECK IT OUT

valentine.godoflove
valentine.godoflove

I was there....DURING THE TIME OF MAC ARTHUR........we were not even on speaking terms with Beijing.......the communists just took over the mainland......it was and i a s very different time than today.......our trade with china is in the zillions.......North Korea....is like a louse in  their jacket.....a flea on their dog today......their reaction...... in my analysis....... as a world historian, nilitary historian and political  historian ...would be different today.

if prongyang makes a move on their own.......without the express permission of china.....their big brother.......china will leave them to twist in the wind.

valentine....comedian....lokl

internetfavs
internetfavs

will people in north korea know that there's a better world across their borders?

internetfavs.com

LuwianMemories
LuwianMemories

@internetfavs 

Many of them actually do know - according to recent studies by hard-working, intrepid scholars, many North Koreans manage to get illegal cellphones using the Chinese cellphone network. They also manage to get their hands on DVD players and use them to secretly watch SK soap operas and TV shows. These are mostly people in the northern part of NK, which is closer to China and allow easy access to smugglers bringing these materials. 

However, the regime manages to retain control through a combination of Confucian ideology (obeying the government), starvation (people can't think about anything else other than getting the next meal), and showing some flexibility (such as allowing private markets, many of them run by women, to run unimpeded so people can buy food and families can make money, since the men are employed at state jobs that instead of paying them wages, the employees have to pay the state firm money to come to work). 

melonheadx13
melonheadx13 like.author.displayName like.author.displayName 2 Like

china is missing its chance of a lifetime to show its prominence in moderating world affairs.  they could raise their prestige worldwide by aggressively working to calm the situation as soon as possible.  or are they working with north korea to test the response from the usa?

j.villain1
j.villain1 like.author.displayName like.author.displayName 2 Like

@melonheadx13  

China has never felt the need dominate and dictate to the world the way the US does.  China is doing nothing to threaten the US but the US is working on a massive build up of arms against China in an attempt to start "Cold War v2.0". Two totally different cultures.

vorlons
vorlons like.author.displayName like.author.displayName 2 Like

@j.villain1 @melonheadx13  I totally agree, Melonhead is exactly that a melonhead. We need to take all the white americans out of the decision making process. Look at all the wars they start. All the massacres and genocide.

vorlons
vorlons

@MrG @vorlons @j.villain1 @melonheadx13 Excuse me but what has that got to do with the Iraq war, the Afghan war, the Vietnam war, the Cambodia bombings, the atomic bombings of civilians in Japan, the Panama war, the Nicuragara war, the... need I go on.

"Funny how everything ends with the word war

vorlons
vorlons

@SwiftrightRight @vorlons @j.villain1 @melonheadx13 Everyone else.

Afterall your not really indiginous are you now? How did you end up being American? Oh I see you were not a slave brought against your will. Oh I see your people did not exist there for thousands of years. OH I SEE you went by boat, wiped out the Indians, enslaved the blacks, launched wars on Mexio, killed half your own people claiming it was over slavery, supported and installed dictators all over latin America, then started wars in other countries, then overthrew democratic regimes.  Just so that we are clear. I can go on if you want.. I can continue with the use of two atomic weapons.. Would you like that?

You know its funny because I had a similar arguement with some other white american in Tesco. You know what he did, backed away and walked off. Because you have no defense. Because the amount of attrocities you have commited world-wide obscures the good. Do not get me wrong, there is good in America too. I have seen it, but I think just as the Japenese are not allowed to have a non-peaceful military, I think it right that white people like you be removed from the decision making process.

MrG
MrG

@vorlons @j.villain1 @melonheadx13 

You are obviously ignorant of who caused the first and second world war - go back to school and learn your history ignorant observer.

duduong
duduong like.author.displayName like.author.displayName 2 Like

There are a couple of cases of mistranslation in this article, although the author is not really responsible as he was simply quoting previous work.

The first is in Xi's proclamation: what he really said ("一己之私") means "ONE PERSON's selfish gains", not just "selfish gains". This is why it is clear to Chinese speakers that he meant Kim.

The second is in translating "大後方" into "large rear area". The original language does not allow the pun. It simply means "large area for defense in depth".

antonmarq
antonmarq

And just how does Austin Ramzy assume that the remark was directed at North Korea, and not the U.S.?  

Changes_Long
Changes_Long

It's interesting to see the photo at the top of the Chinese museum highlighting the help they provided in the Korean War. When we visited a similar museum in Pyongyang last year they downplayed any Chinese help at all and said they beat the Americans on their own. Considering millions of Chinese were killed, China should be upset at that misinformation as well.

For our rare photos from inside North Korea go to: http://www.changesinlongitude.com/category/destinations/asia-destinations/north-korea-travel/

LuwianMemories
LuwianMemories

@Changes_Long 

Well, the NK view of China's assistance is complicated. For example, in one Arirang mass game video I saw which was recorded by a Canadian tourist in Pyonyang, they did show the Chinese flag for a bit to signify the assistance China gave them. Kim Il-Sung also insisted to Mao that all the Chinese soldiers killed in Korea, including Mao's son Mao Anying, should be buried in North Korea. They are stilled interred in a cemetery to this day near Pyonyang. As a matter of fact, Wen Jiabao made a trip there a few years ago (I think it was 2009) and he spoke to the gravestones of the soldiers, telling them how China is now prosperous and the Chinese people have "stood up".

However, one cannot deny that there is also friction between China and NK, partly due to historical reasons since Korea back in the old days was a tributary and "junior brother" of China. This is also why South Koreans (don't know about North Koreans) do not like to acknowledge how Ming China helped Joseon Korea repel Toyotomi Hideyoshi's Invasions of Korea in the 1590s. The one TV drama they made about this war placed most of the focus on their national hero Yi Sun-Shin (who was indeed a brilliant navy admiral) and there was almost no mention of Chinese involvement. 

frankwall1965
frankwall1965 like.author.displayName 1 Like

The idea of a bufferstate is outdated. China would be much more prosperous if it ditched North Korea. Look at statistics on China's main trading partners - South Korea has the greatest share of Chinese foreign trade:  http://www.statista.com/statistics/173053/chinas-share-on-foreign-trade-of-selected-countries/ 

Having direct road and rail connections without the chaotic trouble making north would be a greater advantage. China needs to really join the 21st century and cease its support for Kim.

j.villain1
j.villain1 like.author.displayName 1 Like

@frankwall1965  

If the US would honour it's commitments under the Korean Armistice  and go home then China wouldn't need a buffer and NK wouldn't be sabre rattling against the US. It is hard to understand why Americans think China should want a county that demands regime change every where it goes parked on their door step.

rorywong654
rorywong654 like.author.displayName 1 Like

China will not get involved with NK if US decide to have another war. China will sit on the sideline and will help NK and SK to rebuild

SmailBuzzby
SmailBuzzby

@rorywong654 Really?  China is MUCH stronger now than they were when they last sent us home as losers (and it was China, or their support that lost us our first fight in Korea)...what makes you think that are afraid of us now?  

It is that kind of thinking that started us down this idiotic road.

rorywong654
rorywong654 like.author.displayName 1 Like

@SmailBuzzby @rorywong654 China is not afraid but smarter this time.Last time the war was forced upon but this time China has the choice

melonheadx13
melonheadx13

@rorywong654 @SmailBuzzby china has gone money mad and their policies are meant to sustain business interests.  too bad li'l un is not causing them severe losses of profit or they would spank the little brat.

hsknyc
hsknyc

@rorywong654 

Rory,  are you getting your facts from your China produced tv programs?

The ONLY reason Koreas is devided is because of China and US.  Korea being split into two has NOTHING to do with KOREA.

It was the last theater of war between communism(China, Russia) vs capitalism(US). and still remains so till this day.  US & China & Russia will never fight a war between any one of them since the outcome will likely be a total destruction of all three countries, if not the world.  So, they refrain from actaul conflict by engaging in smaller conflicts under the disguise of"civil car" "revolution" or coup.

If it was upto Koreans, we would be a country that is #8 is world economy and #4 in world military.  which would automatically create another major power in the region - China would never stand for this.

LuwianMemories
LuwianMemories

@hsknyc @rorywong654 

I should clarify that in 2010, one of the Wikileaks cables indicated that Chinese officials were okay with the NK and SK reunifying under Seoul, as long as US troops were not stationed near the Sino-Korean border and Korea was not hostile to China. Of course, the Chinese government itself is not unified regarding its view of this situation.

LuwianMemories
LuwianMemories

@hsknyc @rorywong654

hsknyc - "The ONLY reason Koreas is devided is because of China and US."

And where do you get your history programming? Any reputable historian will tell you that the agreement was between the USSR and the US in 1948 to split the peninsula, with Japanese troops north of the 38th parallel surrendering to Soviet forces and those south of it surrendering to US forces. The Soviets picked Kim Il-Sung to lead NK, which was founded in 1948. China was still having its own little civil war then between the communists and the nationalists, and Mao did not proclaim the PRC until October 1st, 1949.  

\

rorywong654
rorywong654 like.author.displayName 1 Like

@hsknyc @rorywong654 If SK is stupid enough to be drawn into war with NK by US. NK will be 50% RUINED AND SK will not be better off either.US got no money to rebuild the region but have to leave it to China to do the job. China will not lost any influence in the area after the conflict. China may be better off after the war

LuwianMemories
LuwianMemories

@rorywong654 @hsknyc 

I agree with you rory - the repercussions of renewed fighting (remember the Korean War never ended technically speaking) would not only devastate both Koreas, but also have effects direct and indirect on the whole Asia-Pacific region, if not the world. Even if SK absorbs NK peacefully, the bill SK has to foot to stabilize and start developing NK would perhaps set SK back a decade or two. Plus, what are they going to do about the average North Koreans, who have been brainwashed their entire lives and would probably at best have only outdated skillset? The integration of NK defectors into SK society had run into many problems before, so imagine having to do this with over 20 million people.