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Dispatch: Chinese Influence in North Korea and the World

December 9, 2010 | 1539 Print Text Size

Video Transcript

Analyst Matt Gertken examines Chinese State Councillor Dai Bingguo's visit to North Korea amid tensions on the peninsula, and how his recent editorial counters accusations that China is becoming more aggressive.

Editor’s Note: Transcripts are generated using speech-recognition technology. Therefore, STRATFOR cannot guarantee their complete accuracy.

Chinese State Council Dai Bingguo has made his trip to North Korea to meet with leader Kim Jong Il. This is a highly anticipated trip as the United States and its allies call on China to do more to rein in North Korea.

First, it's important to understand who Dai Bingguo is. He's one of China's top foreign policy figures and he frequently stands in for President Hu Jintao himself. He also has a personal relationship with Kim Jong Il, the North Korean leader, so he's really perfect for this tense Korean situation and the need for China and North Korea to coordinate better. Now here's the interesting thing: China has by far the most influence over North Korea but that doesn't mean that it's entirely in control, and with the latest attack on Yeonpyeong Island there's been a question as to whether China was urging or enabling North Korea or whether North Korea was acting independently. All we know at the moment is that the Chinese and North Koreans have had their big meeting. We're not exactly sure what details they agreed to but we've seen reports from Chinese state press saying that a consensus has been the reached.

So far all China has been willing to do is offer a return to six-party talks which is pretty much the status quo ante — that is, before the Yeonpyeong Island attacks. What the U.S. and its allies are demanding is that China twist North Korea's arm, get North Korea to give some kind of concrete concession before negotiations begin and that way they can have faith that the negotiations won't just be a pointless "Ring around the Rosy" with the usual time-wasting by the North Koreans. So we'll have to see what China and North Korea present but if it isn't substantial there is a risk that the current standoff will continue.

However the U.S. and China have now begun a new round of negotiations leading up to President Hu Jintao's visit to the United States, which is the first state visit since 2006. This is an important visit and on the occasion of the visit as both sides are preparing their positions, this same state councilor, Dai Bingguo, has penned an editorial that calls attention to a lot of the most burning issues in the U.S.-China relationship. The main message of the editorial is that China is not seeking to replace the United States as the world's superpower. China doesn't like to be in a leading position, it's not seeking hegemony, it's its main goal is to continue its economic development and form good relations with all its trade partners. At least that's the message.

The more interesting thing about the editorial was the claim that China is not seeking to establish a "Monroe Doctrine." The Monroe Doctrine for the U.S. obviously was in the early 1800s when it made a major foreign-policy declaration that European powers should stay out of the Americas. There's been a suspicion among the U.S. and its allies that that's what China is now trying to do in East Asia — basically going around its periphery and increasing its influence to the point that it can scare off foreign powers, dominate its neighbors, and create a sphere of influence.

The U.S. has been working against this by re-engaging in Southeast Asia but we can't take this to mean that the U.S. and China are removing the underlying causes of their disagreements. These are in fact getting worse. China has become far more conspicuous as an economic power as it develops its military and as it becomes more forceful in dealing with other countries. The U.S. has become very suspicious of that and so have most U.S. allies who have now more actively begun calling for the U.S. to assist them in pressuring China or at least counterbalancing it.

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