North Korea: Like a bratty little brother!

A Nettlesome Neighbor for China


North Korea’s unending appetite for confrontation has left many wondering what its bottom line is, none more so than its supposed patron and big brother, China.

Despite its impoverishment and heavy dependence on Chinese aid and support, North Korea seems to take a perverse pleasure in defying every Chinese diplomatic initiative, from efforts to keep the Korean peninsula nuclear free to avoiding violent confrontation.

China’s influence is rising steadily around the world. But the problem of how to manage its Communist neighbor and one-time ally appears to befuddle China’s leaders, who stumble from indulging the North to sending occasional signals of pique, all without making the country adopt a path toward greater openness or stability.

“At the moment China has limited influence,” Cai Jian, a professor of Korean studies at Fudan University, said in a telephone interview. “On one hand it’s unhappy with North Korean actions and its provocative behavior, but on the other hand it still has to support North Korea.”

The support continues because China fears the vacuum created by a sudden collapse there would open the door to rule by South Korea, “and that will put an American military alliance on the doorstep of China.”

Mr. Cai said that during a recent trip to China, the North Korean leader Kim Jong-il was told by the Chinese president, Hu Jintao, that they should communicate better so that China would not be surprised by its behavior.

From the North, a Pattern of Aggression


While the North has sought to send strong, militaristic messages to the United States and its allies in the past, the new provocations have been more forceful and lethal than in recent decades. Analysts say the government may be trying to ensure that the Kim family dynasty continues for a third generation by winning the loyalty of the powerful military with shows of force.

The escalation may also reflect the increasing insecurity or even desperation of the isolated North, which often has trouble feeding its own population, much less keeping up with the rising technological and military capabilities of the far wealthier South.

“The North reacts with sea clashes whenever it feels slighted or threatened,” said Yang Moo-jin, a professor at the University of North Korean Studies in Seoul. “The North wants to send a message to the South that it will never yield.”

Comment: One of these days, this will boil over and be a war. I'm surprised it hasn't so far. More from the 2nd article on the logic (there must be some logic one would think!) of the North's actions.

Excerpt (I added the numbered list and the bolded headers):

Analysts admit that trying to make sense of these seemingly random and often violent acts is a bit like reading tea leaves. However, they tend to offer three lines of analysis in explaining them.
  1. Get Washington's attention: The first is that the North is raising tensions on the peninsula in order to get Washington’s attention. In particular, North Korea appears keen to hold bilateral talks with the United States, something both the Bush and Obama administrations have been wary of doing. The Bush administration preferred to hold collective discussions with North Korea as part of the so-called six party talks that also involve China, Japan, Russia and South Korea. The Obama administration has not held direct talks with the North.
  2. Stir domestic population by creating a crisis: The recent provocations could be a show aimed at the broader domestic population, to once again rally them behind the government by creating an air of crisis. Some experts have also speculated that the recent acts were ordered by the younger Kim to establish his leadership credentials with the military, arguably the most powerful institution in North Korea.
  3. Bargaining chip: One of the North’s ultimate goals may be ensuring the Kim dynasty’s survival by negotiating with the United States, most likely for a peace treaty to conclude the Korean war, which never formally ended. North Korea could conceivably offer its nuclear program as a bargaining chip in exchange for security guarantees that would include a pledge never to attack the North.

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