- By Isaac Stone FishIsaac Stone Fish is FP's Asia editor. A Mandarin speaker, he lived in China for seven years before moving to Washington, D.C. His articles have also appeared in the New York Times, the Economist, the Washington Post, and the Los Angeles Times, and he has appeared as a commentator on MSNBC, the BBC, NPR, Al Jazeera, and PRI, among others.
On Wednesday, the Financial Times published an op-ed titled "China should abandon North Korea" by Deng Yuwen, the deputy editor of Study Times, the journal of China’s Central Party School. The remarkably strongly written piece calls for China to push for the reunification of the Korean peninsula — i.e., regime change in North Korea.
The Central Party School is the most elite school for cadres; Xi Jinping served as president of the school until being appointed chairman of the Communist Party. Deng is relatively low in the party (and party school) hierarchy, but his op-ed is the latest in a series of indications that Beijing might be considering pulling the plug on North Korea.
Shen Dingli, the director of the Center for American Studies at Fudan University, published an article in these pages after North Korea’s third nuclear test on Feb. 12 arguing that "China has reached a point where it needs to cut its losses and cut North Korea loose." Jin Qiangyi, director of the Center for North and South Korea Studies at Yanbian University in northeast China, told the New York Times that "[f]or the first time the Chinese government has felt the pressure of public opinion not to be too friendly with North Korea."
In his FT op-ed, Deng argues that Beijing should give up on its erstwhile ally because:
- A relationship based on ideology — one of the most commonly stated reasons for China and North Korea’s friendship — "is dangerous," and "although both countries are socialist, their differences are much larger than those between China and the west."
- North Korea is more of a liability than a buffer to China.
- North Korea will not reform; if Kim Jong Un tries to, he could be overthrown. "Why should China maintain relations with a regime and a country that will face failure sooner or later?"
- North Korea is pulling away from Beijing — and Kim might even use his nuclear weapons to blackmail China.
"The best way of giving up on Pyongyang," Deng writes, "is to take the initiative to facilitate North Korea’s unification with South Korea," which, while still very unlikely, would open a whole new era in East Asia.