February 17, 2013 10:44 pm

North Korean lips not about to fade

From Prof Yeomin Yoon.

Sir, Hundreds of thousands of Chinese soldiers, including Chairman Mao Zedong’s eldest son, gave their lives to prevent North Korea’s demise during the Korean war. Since then, the relationship between China and North Korea has been governed by what the Chinese call Chun Wang Chi Han: “If the lips are gone, the teeth will be cold.” In other words, North Korea is the lips to China’s teeth.

Hwang Jang Yop, the high-ranking North Korean official who defected to South Korea, reported before his death in 2010 that Kim Jong-il repeatedly told his subordinates that they “should be more on guard against China than against the US imperialists and South Korea”, because the late dictator felt that China did not sufficiently assist North Korea diplomatically, nor with food, cash, and energy aid. Dr Hwang even predicted this third underground nuclear test, deployed at an opportune moment to convey, in part, that: first, North Korea is unhappy with China’s lukewarm and sometimes negative diplomatic support; second, if China truly regards North Korea as its lips, it should increase material and financial aid; and third, the teeth do not have suzerainty over the lips.

Would China “halt North Korea’s folly” as your editorial (February 13) rightly calls for? It seems highly doubtful that China will discipline its “spoiled child” (words allegedly used by China’s vice foreign minister, He Yafei, in April 2009 to describe North Korea, according to the American diplomatic cables made public in November 2010 WikiLeaks); for no other reason than that China would prefer a nuclear North Korea to an American military presence on its own border.

It is sad to conclude that the peace-loving world seems to have no choice but to live, for some years to come, with a “rogue regime” that chooses “bombs over butter”, and a China that is determined to keep unruly North Korean lips alive in order to protect its own teeth.

Yeomin Yoon, Professor of Finance and International Business, Seton Hall University, South Orange, NJ, US

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