In this blog post, my friend Jorrie Andrean gives her contribution to the analysis of what happens next on the relations between China and North Korea after Kim Jong Il’s death last week. My comments are below after the article.
North Korean official media announced the death of its leader, Kim Jong Il on 19 December 2011, two days after his actual dying day, which is on 17 December 2011. The death of this eccentric leader has raised concerns regarding several issues, including the future of Sino-North Korea relation.
China and North Korea has a mutual and strong relationship. North Korea has been considered as China’s buffer zone in Northeast Asia. While China, has been seen as North Korea’s main partner because of its immense support to North Korea by pumping aid to its poor economy.
The death of Kim Jong Il coincide with the shift of USA’s foreign policy paradigm toward Asia Pacific. As announced on November 2011, USA has established military cooperation with Australia by placing 2.500 US Marines in Darwin, Australia. USA’s action is seen as way to contend the spread of China’s influence in Asia Pacific, so that USA could preserve its hegemony in the region. In order to tackle this challenge, China needs to assemble support from any countries, especially its old ally, North Korea.
Having an ally that possesses strong military and nuclear power has given a great benefit for China. As China’s buffer zone in Northeast Asia, North Korea has shielded China from USA’s deterrence in forms of military presence in South Korea. USA’s military presence has disrupted the process of China’s reunification with Taiwan, since USA conducts arms trade with Taiwan. Therefore, a strong military ally is needed to guard the border of China from USA’s invasion.
However, after the death of Kim Jong Il, things will not be the same. North Korea’s military and nuclear power without strong leader may lead to instability that could involve the usage of nuclear. Besides, the instability may create mass panic and waves of refugees to China. Both instability and waves of refugees may distort the economic activity in China and the region, conditions that China can’t afford to have.
The heir of the dynasty is burdened on the shoulder of Kim Jong Un. As the third son of Kim Jong Il, Kim Jong Un has been prepared to take over the dynasty by receiving two important military titles: four star general and vice chairman of the Central Military Commission last year. Nevertheless, his relatively short groomed period which is 3 years (compared with his late father that has been groomed for two decades) makes it difficult for him to hold the approval of high ranking military officials regarding his leadership. Moreover, its gloomy economic condition could ignite social unrests or worse, though unlikely, the wave of demonstration by the people demanding a better economic situation. These factors could endanger Kim Jong Un’s leadership position, therefore the future of North Korea.
Hence, it is up to Kim Jong Un’s leadership to direct the future of Sino-North Korea relationship. If he can manage to lead the country by possessing approval from military side, the mutual and strong relationship would still be exist. However, if he fails to do so, Sino-North Korea story would be remembered as history. Which one is likely to be happened? Only time will tell.