Jonathan Fenby: Now we need China's help even more

Beijing is anxious to avoid the emergence of a united Korea, allied to the US

Share
Related Topics

The road to Pyongyang lies through Beijing. Despite the disappointments of the six-party talks aimed at curbing North Korea's nuclear experiments, one can only hope that the West, meaning primarily the US, is working with the Chinese leadership to formulate a joint policy towards the hermit realm after the death of Kim Jong-il.

The fact that Beijing was unable to deliver its "Little Brother" on the nuclear front should not be a deterrent to a fresh attempt to forge a common front in a situation that contains dangers reaching far beyond the Korean peninsula.

Chinese leaders, including Prime Minister Wen Jiabao, have visited North Korea in the past two years and Vice President Xi Jinping, the man most likely to become China's leader next year, spoke of "a great victory" by Chinese and North Korean troops in the Korean War. But conversations with Chinese diplomats have made clear to me that they were both bemused and frustrated by the late leader's ability to pursue his own path regardless of the pressure put on him. The main conduit for Chinese influence may be in links between its army and military leaders in Pyongyang, but the truth is that we know little about how strong those are or how Chinese influence might play into the likely infighting between different branches of the Kim family.

China will be as concerned as anybody by the uncertainty following Kim's demise. Beijing is both anxious to avoid a collapse which would unleash a flood of refugees across the frontier, and to ward off the emergence of a strong, united Korea allied to the US, which would alter the balance of power in East Asia. In this context, Western diplomacy should aim to fashion a joint approach with China that focuses on the way the regime in Pyongyang is evolving, rather than becoming bogged down on the nuclear issue.

One snag is that President Obama's recent efforts to expand US policy in the Pacific, ranging from stationing troops in Australia to launching a proposal for a free trade zone, are viewed by China as a threat, with claims from hawks in Beijing that Washington is embarking on a Cold War-style containment policy of the mainland. Another is that Japan continues to find it hard to play a political role commensurate with its economic power.

But precisely because the outlook for North Korea is so uncertain – with the possibility of faction-fighting in Pyongyang that could breed extreme policy lurches – the West, China, Japan and South Korea face a specific challenge. They have to try to evolve a policy that offers a chance of warding off an explosion (or implosion) in a region which is more vital than before for the global economy.

Jonathan Fenby is the author of the Penguin History of Modern China

React Now

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Information Security Manager (ISO 27001, Accreditation, ITIL)

£70000 per annum: Harrington Starr: Information Security Manager (ISO 27001, A...

C# Developer (HTML5, JavaScript, ASP.NET, Mathematics, Entity)

£30000 - £45000 per annum + Benefits + Bonus: Harrington Starr: C# Developer (...

C# Integration Developer (.NET, Tibco EMS, SQL 2008/2012, XML)

£60000 - £80000 per annum + Benefits + Bonus: Harrington Starr: C# Integration...

Biztalk - outstanding opportunity

£75000 - £85000 per annum + ex bens: Deerfoot IT Resources Limited: Biztalk Te...

Day In a Page

Read Next
Harman has said her gender affected her employment  

Gordon Brown could have had a woman as deputy PM. He bottled it

Joan Smith
Barclays are reducing the number of staff in their branches - and giving those remain ipads  

A bag? In the bagging area? Whatever next?

Andrew Martin
Iraq crisis: How Saudi Arabia helped Isis take over the north of the country

How Saudi Arabia helped Isis take over the northern Iraq

A speech by an ex-MI6 boss hints at a plan going back over a decade. In some areas, being Shia is akin to being a Jew in Nazi Germany, says Patrick Cockburn
The evolution of Andy Serkis: First Gollum, then King Kong - now the actor is swinging through the trees in Dawn of the Planet of the Apes

The evolution of Andy Serkis

First Gollum, then King Kong - now the actor is swinging through the trees in Dawn of the Planet of the Apes
You thought 'Benefits Street' was controversial: Follow-up documentary 'Immigrant Street' has got locals worried

You thought 'Benefits Street' was controversial...

Follow-up documentary 'Immigrant Street' has got locals worried
Refugee children from Central America let down by Washington's high ideals

Refugee children let down by Washington's high ideals

Democrats and Republicans refuse to set aside their differences to cope with the influx of desperate Central Americas, says Rupert Cornwell
Children's books are too white, says Laureate

Children's books are too white, says Laureate

Malorie Blackman appeals for a better ethnic mix of authors and characters and the illustrator Quentin Blake comes to the rescue
Blackest is the new black: Scientists have developed a material so dark that you can't see it...

Blackest is the new black

Scientists have developed a material so dark that you can't see it...
Matthew Barzun: America's diplomatic dude

Matthew Barzun: America's diplomatic dude

The US Ambassador to London holds 'jeans and beer' gigs at his official residence – it's all part of the job, he tells Chris Green
Meet the Quantified Selfers: From heart rates to happiness, there is little this fast-growing, self-tracking community won't monitor

Meet the 'Quantified Selfers'

From heart rates to happiness, there is little this fast-growing, self-tracking community won't monitor
Madani Younis: Five-star reviews are just the opening act for British theatre's first non-white artistic director

Five-star reviews are just the opening act for British theatre's first non-white artistic director

Madani Younis wants the neighbourhood to follow his work as closely as his audiences do
Mrs Brown and her boys: are they having a laugh?

Mrs Brown and her boys: are they having a laugh?

When it comes to national stereotyping, the Irish – among others – know it can pay to play up to outsiders' expectations, says DJ Taylor
Gavin Maxwell's bitter legacy: Was the otter man the wildlife champion he appeared to be?

Otter man Gavin Maxwell's bitter legacy

The aristocrat's eccentric devotion to his pets inspired a generation. But our greatest living nature writer believes his legacy has been quite toxic
Joanna Rowsell: The World Champion cyclist on breaking her collarbone, shattering her teeth - and dealing with alopecia

Joanna Rowsell: 'I wear my wig to look normal'

The World Champion cyclist on breaking her collarbone, shattering her teeth - and dealing with alopecia
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef gives raw ingredients a lift with his quick marinades

Bill Granger's quick and delicious marinades

Our chef's marinades are great for weekend barbecuing, but are also a delicious way of injecting flavour into, and breaking the monotony of, weekday meals
A History of the First World War in 100 Moments: Peace without magnanimity - the summit in a railway siding that ended the fighting

A History of the First World War in 100 Moments

Peace without magnanimity - the summit in a railway siding that ended the fighting
Scottish independence: How the Commonwealth Games could swing the vote

Scottish independence: How the Commonwealth Games could swing the vote

In the final part of our series, Chris Green arrives in Glasgow - a host city struggling to keep the politics out of its celebration of sport