By Fareed Zakaria
For decades, Beijing saw Pyongyang as a historical and natural ally. But now, a senior Obama administration official told me Wednesday, “We are clearly hearing increasingly levels of frustration and concern” from Beijing about North Korea. A few weeks ago, a senior Communist Party analyst, Deng Yuwen, argued in an op-ed in the Financial Times that China should “abandon” North Korea.
Now talk is easier than action. China has never imposed penalties or strictly enforced sanctions against its ally. Beijing’s reasoning is understandable. We tend to think about North Korea through the prism of two issues: nuclear weapons and human rights. But the Chinese have a more pressing concern — national collapse. If they were to push the North Korean government too hard, they feel, the regime could fall, leaving millions to seek refuge in China. Even more important, China would be bordered by a formal ally of the United States — one with about 28,000 U.S. troops on its soil as well as nuclear weapons. You don’t have to be paranoid to worry about that scenario.