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China may view North Korea as 'feudalistic,' analyst says

Beijing may favor a unified Korea that boosts flourishing trade ties.

By Elizabeth Shim
China may view North Korea as 'feudalistic,' analyst says
The notion China and North Korea enjoy intimate ties is an outdated one, an analyst from Tsinghua University said in Manila on Wednesday. File Photo by Stephen Shaver/UPI | License Photo

March 2 (UPI) -- The United States has often blamed China for bad North Korea behavior, and U.S. President Donald Trump recently suggested Beijing has the upper hand in addressing North Korea's nuclear weapons development.

But the view from China is different, says Chu Shulong, an analyst with the Institute of International Strategic and Development Studies at Tsinghua University.

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Speaking at a panel on Korean unification at the annual Global Peace Convention in Manila on Wednesday, Chu described a more contentious aspect to China-North Korea relations often overlooked in Washington because of pressing U.S. concerns about Pyongyang's ever-growing nuclear weapons program.

Chu said China shares those concerns, and is further aggravated by geographical proximity and a shared 880-mile border with a belligerent North Korea.

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"We have a very negative perception of the North Korean regime," Chu said, adding the continued tests of nuclear bombs draw anxiety about radiation damage "less than 100 miles from China."

Beijing may also be scornful of North Korea's false communism, one that maintains central power in one family that purges or executes its dissidents.

"Chinese would disagree North Korea is a socialist country," Chu said, adding the regime is "nothing but a feudalistic state."

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That sense of distance between the two countries, however, has been eclipsed by China's pragmatism, marked by a strong desire to avoid turning a traditional partner into a hostile adversary.

An exceptional relationship between "communist comrades" may also be something of an urban legend, Chu said.

The China-North Korea relationship "is not something special, it is the same feelings and attitude that the Chinese have toward their other neighbors such as Pakistan, Nepal, Myanmar, Cambodia and Laos," the analyst said, dispelling a long-held assumption the two countries have been as close as "lips and teeth" since the 1950-53 Korean War.

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Changes in China's views of its troubling neighbor have also evolved with improved South Korea relations. North Korea provocations targeting the South, such as the bombardment of South Korea's Yeongpyeong Island have only turned Chinese public opinion against the North.

Incidents like the Kim Jong Nam assassination have also been partly censored because the Chinese government is wary of anti-North Korea sentiment in the country.

But the most significant driver of views of North Korea may be coming from within China, and the country's ongoing focus on economic development and "modernization," Chu said.

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The country's top policy goal is to build economic prosperity, making a unified Korea desirable if it means a new state on the peninsula that supports flourishing trade.

In 2014, South Korea was China's third-largest trading partner, surpassing Taiwan and Australia, and a similar expanded state without nuclear weapons is a prospect China looks forward to, according to Chu.

"Bigger countries do not fear smaller countries," Chu said referring to a future unified Korea. "And we're the bigger country."

The Global Peace Foundation is affiliated with the ultimate holding company that owns United Press International.

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