‘Bo Xilai case affects China policy on NK‘
By Kim Young-jin
The apparent rise of reformers in the Chinese Communist Party raises the possibility of a tougher line on North Korea amid growing frustration over Pyongyang’s provocations, an expert said Tuesday.
Analysts say the recent ouster of former politburo member Bo Xilai in connection with the suspected murder of a British businessman and a bugging scandal has exposed deep rifts in the Chinese leadership, with reformers taking the opportunity to push for change.
Gordon Flake, executive director of the Mark and Mike Mansfield Foundation, said the movement away from “old-school conservatives” such as Bo could encourage Beijing to recalibrate a North Korea policy that was criticized for enabling Pyongyang’s behavior.
“Bo Xilai was being attacked by Wen Jiabo and others who had been pushing for the open reform-minded faction,” Flake said at a lecture at the Asan Institute for Policy Studies in Seoul.
“If you look at which of these factions were closer to North Korea and the appearance that, right now at least, the reformists did ascend, that would leave some to have hope that the Chinese would be willing in the coming weeks and months to further mitigate their approach to the North.”
China is seen to be between a rock and a hard place over Pyongyang, which is threatening to raise tensions again as satellite imagery shows preparations have been made in the country’s northeast for a third nuclear test.
Even as it has increased cooperation with the impoverished country to help secure its own borders, analysts say it is frustrated by the North’s provocations such as its failed rocket launch on April 13.
Beijing backed a U.N. Security Council presidential statement over the act, which expanded sanctions and issued a stern warning over future provocations. Still, speculation is high that Pyongyang could ignore the warning and carry out the nuclear test in a bid to bolster its fledgling leadership.
Flake said Beijing was forced to prioritize stability not long after a stroke suffered by late North Korean leader Kim Jong-il in 2008.
But following the North’s two deadly attacks on the South and disclosure of a uranium enrichment program ― for which China blocked international censure ― Beijing was harshly criticized by the international community for shielding its ally.
Flake said that given Beijing’s likely embarrassment, support of the UNSC statement and the possible shift away from the old-school were particularly notable.
“It really has it set up for, if and when North Korea tests another nuclear weapon, the Chinese position to be greatly limited,” he said. “There is some hope, not that China will abandon North Korea but that they will begin to recalibrate their approach and in some ways stop shielding North Korea from the consequences of its actions.”