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End of a special relationship? China looks at North Korea with frustration and even fear

End of a special relationship? China looks at North Korea with frustration and even fear
From CBC - September 17, 2017

As recently as a few months ago, when Pyongyang was planning to launch a missile or carry out a nuclear test, it would send an envoy to Beijing or notify it in advance through other channels. Not so anymore, it seems.

Observers here say there was no warning delivered before Friday's missile went up from North Korea and set the region on edge.

No courtesy note was sent before the ground shook in northeast China from the massive underground nuclear blast next door earlier this month. It left many in China angry and exasperated.

"Many here now see North Korea as a major liability," says Zhao Tong, North Korea expert at Beijing's Carnegie-Tsinghua Centre for Global Policy. "And it appears North Korea does not mind annoying Beijing."

Relationship sours

"The situation is degenerating all the time," he says.

The relationship between the two historical allies and ideological soulmates has gone from special to strained.

China bristles every time the United States says it could rein in North Korea if it wanted.

"China is not the focus," said Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Hua Chunying on Friday. "China is not the driving force behind the escalating situation. And China is not the key to resolving the issue."

Making sacrifices

Indeed, she said, Beijing has made "enormous sacrifices" in an effort to force Pyongyang to abandon its weapons program.

Last week at the United Nations Security Council, China agreed on a package of tough new sanctions that includes a cap on oil exports to North Korea resulting in 30 per cent less fuel for Pyongyang. Washington had lobbied hard for a total embargo, but China and Russia refused.

The UN package also bans the export of North Korean textile products and freezes the employment of workers from the country abroad. In all, the sanctions could cost Pyongyang $1.3 billion US in lost revenues.

Beijing's official position has long supported a gradual increase in sanctions, but a year ago something this severe would have been unthinkable.

Fifteen missile tests this year and one huge nuclear explosion jolted China into taking a tougher line.

It has resisted out of fear of what could happen in North Korea if sanctions really bit. The economy could collapse in chaos, maybe even the regime itself.

North Korea seen as a buffer zone

North Korean leader Kim Jong-un could be swept from power and China's fickle, but tolerable buffer zone with more hostile U.S. forces in South Korea would disappear. Millions of refugees could stream across the border.

Hostility toward China

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