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In China, Criticize North Korea at Your Peril

Deng Yuwen shocked analysts of Asian geopolitics at the end of February when he penned a highly critical essay entitled “China should abandon North Korea” for the Financial Times. It was a shocker because Deng Yuwen is no liberal critic of China’s curious relationship with Pyongyang—he’s the deputy editor of the Study Times, a weekly magazine at the Central Party School, which trains the next generation of Communist Party officials.

Deng, who has a reputation for being outspoken, has since paid a heavy price for his boldness. On Monday, during an interview with a South Korean newspaper, he acknowledged that the Party had suspended him from his position, and he doesn’t know when—or if—he will be given another job.

Deng’s provocative article for the FT, together with China’s support for harsher sanctions on North Korea, led to some speculation that China was considering abandoning the Norks. But Deng’s removal suggests that won’t be the case right away—though the Kim family retainers in Pyongyang are probably scratching their heads over the mixed signals still coming from Beijing. If you say the wrong thing in North Korea you are likely to have a tragic car accident that leaves a bullet hole in the back of your head; the Norks will be wondering if Deng’s suspension (with pay) isn’t a sign that the official displeasure is not all that strong.

Beijing probably isn’t ready to write the Norks off just yet, but it doesn’t mind keeping Pyongyang on its toes.

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  • foobarista

    China’s relationship with NK is quite complicated. On the one hand, throwing the current leadership under the bus clearly appeals to a lot of younger people, who regard the NK leadership as just as silly and bizarre as we do, and Chinese support as a blight and a hindrance to any strategy to enhance “soft power”. (Nontrivial numbers of people in China think NK’s nukes could be a threat to China itself, as there is a fairly strong anti-Chinese faction in NK.) On the other hand, NK exists because of Chinese blood, and the Korean War, which in Chinese is called “The War to Resist America and Help Korea”, is the first war in which China did anything but unambiguously lose to non-Chinese armies for several hundred years. China takes this sort of thing very seriously.

    Also, many generals made their bones in the Korean War, and while most of them are dead, their children don’t want their reputation weakened by ending support for NK.

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