Daily Archives: 17 October 2006

Is China Debating Regime Change in NK?

The Australian on 16 October ran a report from The Sunday Times suggesting that China is contemplating regime change in North Korea in the wake of the latest nuclear test.

THE Chinese are openly debating “regime change” in Pyongyang after last week’s nuclear test by their confrontational neighbour….

The Chinese Government has been ultra-cautious in its reaction. However, since Monday, Foreign Ministry officials have started to make a point of distinguishing between the North Korean people and their Government in conversations with diplomats.

Ahead of yesterday’s Security Council vote, some in Beijing argued against heavy sanctions on North Korea for fear that these would destroy what remains of a pro-Chinese “reformist” faction inside the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea.

“In today’s DPRK Government, there are two factions, sinophile and royalist,” one Chinese analyst wrote online. “The objective of the sinophiles is reform, Chinese-style, and then to bring down Kim Jong-il’s royal family. That’s why Kim is against reform. He’s not stupid.”

More than one Chinese academic agreed that China yearned for an uprising similar to the one that swept away the Romanian dictator Nicolae Ceausescu in 1989 and replaced him with communist reformers and generals. The Chinese made an intense political study of the Romanian revolution and even questioned president Ion Iliescu, who took over, about how it was done and what roles were played by the KGB and by Russia.

Mr Kim, for his part, ordered North Korean leaders to watch videos of the swift and chaotic trial and execution of Ceausescu and his wife, Elena, the vice-prime minister, as a salutary exercise.

The balance of risk between reform and chaos dominated arguments within China’s ruling elite. The Chinese have also permitted an astonishing range of vituperative internet comment about an ally with which Beijing maintains a treaty of friendship and co-operation. Academic Wu Jianguo published an article in a Singapore newspaper – available online in China – bluntly saying: “I suggest China should make an end of Kim’s Government.”

Anne Applebaum in today’s Washington Post argues that North Korea is primarily China’s problem. I think the Romania angle is worth considering, but I regard nearly everything said for public consumption about North Korea as propaganda talking points rather than serious analysis.

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Filed under China, Korea, Romania