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China’s Growing Role in Korean Peninsula

Posted by: Ihlwan Moon on July 3, 2008

If there’s one country on the planet that could sway policies of reclusive North Korea, it should be China. After all it is Pyongyang’s only remaining ally that provides the bulk of oil and consumer goods badly needed in the rickety neighboring economy. Its influence over the North has also been boosted in recent years by hosting six-nation talks aimed at dismantling Pyongyang’s nuclear program.

Now some North Korea watches believe the lack of political leadership in South Korea could prompt China to dictate the fate of the Korean peninsula in the event of a breakdown in the North’s Kim Jong Il regime. Russian North Korea expert Andrei Lankov, who teaches history at Kookmin University in Seoul, warned that South Koreans seemed to be neglecting preparations for a sudden change in the North because they were too obsessed with internal liberal-conservative confrontations.

In a Seoul newspaper column carried today, Lankov pointed out massive streets protests over the lifting of U.S. beef imports displayed the probability of loss of political control in South Korea in the face of potentially divisive issues. The protests, which first focused on concerns about possible mad cow disease infection from U.S. beef, have turned into demonstrations against conservative government of President Lee Myung Bak, who has put on hold his plans to implement pro-business reforms that include tax cuts and privatization of state-owned assets.

Although there’s no sign of an imminent breakdown in North Korea, no one is ruling out the possibility of collapse that could come from a variety of causes. Refugees could stampede by the millions out of the North, the military could stage a coup, the oppressed could rise up or anything else could happen. China, which does not want confusion to be spread to its country, won’t probably wait if South Korea can’t come up with an answer to handle the crisis.

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