China, North Korea ties hit rough weather

By Alexa Olesen

Associated Press

Published: Thursday, May 24 2012 12:00 a.m. MDT

Beijing rarely rebukes Pyongyang in public. Both governments prefer to keep their dealings out of public view, making it always difficult to assess the tenor of ties. Still, the perceived slights from Pyongyang contrast with Beijing's full-bodied embrace of Kim Jong Un. Within hours of Kim Jong Il's death, Chinese President Hu Jintao and other top leaders expressed support for the younger Kim's succession, and they have invited him to visit China.

Analysts said that there has been a marked fall-off in high-level diplomatic visits to North Korea by Chinese officials, but that could be attributed to North Korea's mourning period for Kim and a preoccupation with internal transition politics.

"Communication channels have never been broken between the two sides," said Shi Yuanhua, Director of Center for Korean Studies of Fudan University in Shanghai.

Some among China's North Korea watchers have criticized Beijing's seemingly unconditional support for North Korea as part of the problem. With little at risk, their thinking goes, Pyongyang is encouraged to engage in high-stakes policies.

South Korean intelligence reports and satellite imagery have shown new tunnel-digging at a North Korean nuclear test site in possible preparation for testing a nuclear device, its third in six years. If Pyongyang goes ahead, the test is likely to leave Beijing feeling further ignored, but without other repurcussions.

"Although Beijing would probably prefer North Korea not to conduct another rocket or nuclear test, it would not really alter the fundamental strategic calculus from the Chinese government's perspective," said Delury.

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