Is China Really ‘Dancing To The Tune Of The US’?

REUTERS/Hyungwon Kang/File Photo

Ryan Pickrell China/Asia Pacific Reporter
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North Korea issued an rare rebuke of China Thursday, accusing one of its only friends of “dancing to the tune of the U.S.”

Beijing recently criticized North Korea for its illegal test of a new type of ballistic missile in violation of United Nations Security Council (UNSC) resolutions. Furthermore, China decided to suspend all coal imports from North Korea until the end of the year, going above and beyond the demands of the most recent UNSC resolution passed late last year.

While Beijing is frustrated by Pyongyang’s provocative behavior, the decision to target North Korea’s economic lifeline might be a concession to the new U.S. administration led by President Donald Trump, who has repeatedly called for China to do more to rein in North Korea. China’s foreign minister met with Secretary of State Rex Tillerson last Friday, and Tillerson encouraged China to “use all available tools to moderate North Korea’s destabilizing behavior.” China appears to have taken that message to heart, and North Korea is furious.

The Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) claimed that its “friendly neighbor” is showing an unkind attitude. Pyongyang decried the ban on North Korean coal imports an “inhumane” act that will hurt the North Korean people.

Beijing “has unhesitatingly taken inhumane steps such as totally blocking foreign trade related to the improvement of people’s living standards under the plea of the UN resolutions on sanctions devoid of legal grounds,” the KCNA argued.

China is North Korea’s primary trading partner, with 90 percent of all North Korean trade tied to China, and a critical treaty ally, but repeated provocations in violation of U.N. resolutions, as well as Beijing’s desire to build a positive relationship with the new U.S. administration, which has been on a better track since Trump called Chinese President Xi Jinping and agreed to uphold, in a broader sense, the one-China policy. KCNA described China’s latest actions as “mean behavior.”

“This country, styling itself a big power, is dancing to the tune of the U.S.,” the North Korean state media outlet wrote, adding, “It is utterly childish to think that [North Korea] would not manufacture nuclear weapons and intercontinental ballistic rockets if a few penny of money is cut off.”

China’s decision to ban North Korean coal until the end of the year will cost the North hundreds of millions of dollars, which will have a significant impact on the North’s weak economy.

While Beijing has agreed to put pressure on Pyongyang, some observers wonder whether China will follow through. The U.S. has repeatedly accused China of undermining sanctions by exploiting the “livelihood purposes” clause. North Korea’s weapons programs are disconcerting, but China also fears a humanitarian crisis on its borders if the regime collapses from external pressure. The notion that a non-democratic political regime can be brought down from the outside also makes Beijing uneasy. Despite past U.S. criticisms, China asserts that it “has always implemented UNSC resolutions seriously.” The world is watching to see if China follows through on its recent decision to restrict North Korean coal imports.

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