Relations between both Koreas are getting worse since the Cheonan incident which took place in 2010. North Korea has since reiterated its favorite policy of threatening South Korea with a total war. The United States, Japan and the European Union are of course supporting actions taken by South Korea. American and Japanese are also urging China to cooperate with them to coordinate a potential solution concerning the North Korean issue. The problem lies on the fact that there is no cooperation between the USA and China. The problem is also dealing with the Chinese basic stand which is not changing since a few years unlike the United States which is trying a set of different policies concerning North Korea. We can however hope that Beijing may change its position especially with a generational shift within Chinese elites. Up to present, Beijing is neutral or quasi-neutral as far as its serve the best interests of China in Northeast Asia. This is due to a fear of domestic instability in North Korea and in the entire North-Eastern Asia.
How could we characterize relations between North Korea and China? These relations can be calculated as being complicated and conflicting because of important misperception and miscalculations. This relation can be characterized as a strategic buffer zone (for both sides), a politically self-reliant and independent and economically highly dependent state. Therefore potential sanctions toward North Korea will be rather symbolic than substantive. That’s why it’s rather less probable to see some kind of changes in the Chinese policy toward North Korea.
In contrast to the increasing friction between North Korea and China, South Korea and China have been consolidating their relations in various fields. This close links have been consolidated with the venue of a new leadership not only in Seoul, but also in Beijing. High level officials of both countries have visited each other’s capital frequently since the inauguration of the new South Korean president: Park Geun-hye, who has been to China in June 2013. How it has to be said that Beijing’s basic stance toward Pyongyang is not really changing. From a geopolitical point of view, the Chinese leadership cannot attempt explosive changes in its alliance with North Korea.
South Korea is also seeking for support within the Korean Peninsula policy of Dialogue. Chinese authorities expressed a high interest in President Park in order to ensure the peace on the Korean Peninsula.
In my opinion South Korean’s hard-line policy toward North Korea should be modified. Seoul should stop or at least reduce the warfare operations against North Korea (stopping using psychological weapons, stopping criticizing Pro North-Korean organizations,…). It would lead to an improvement of relations between both Koreas and would avoid a dangerous head-on collision which may destabilize not only both Koreas, but also other countries of this region.
The American policy should also practice not only a policy of “strategic patience”, but also a proactive policy of discussing with persons who are at the head of North Korea and not with the same negotiators since 20 years. American negotiators are changing, but North Korean diplomats remain the same. I’m referring especially here to Kim Kye-kwang, Ri Yong-ho and Ri Gun.
The mediating role of China is crucial here, but due to it stoical mind another key player should be more involved in the Korean Peninsula issue. I’m thinking here of Russia which is increasing its position in North Korea (current April, a new freight transport between Khasan and Rajin was inaugurated and will make a large contributions to the economic exchange between Russia and North Korea).