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China and North Korea, a Fading Alliance


Prospects for an amicable resolution to the North Korean nuclear and ballistic missile crisis faded on July 4, when Pyongyang launched its latest Hwasong-1
Prospects for an amicable resolution to the North Korean nuclear and ballistic missile crisis faded on July 4, when Pyongyang launched its latest Hwasong-14 intercontinental ballistic missile. Dictator Kim Jong Un called it an Independence Day “gift.”
North Korea conducted its fifth nuclear test last September, exploding a 20-to-30-kiloton bomb and sparking the saber-rattling that has characterized the last few months of Pyongyang’s interactions with the United States and countries throughout Northeast Asia.
Trump has expressed disappointment with Beijing’s role in the crisis, saying via social media that Xi and China had “tried” but failed to help with North Korea. Since the July 4 missile test, Washington has begun to move unilaterally on sanctioning Chinese banks and firms that it says have been helping funnel hundreds of millions of dollars to Pyongyang.
President Donald Trump has repeatedly requested that China and its leader Xi Jinping assist with the effort to make North Korea give up its nuclear weapons program. However, China’s relationship with Pyongyang has been made ambiguous and fractured by different interests within the Chinese regime, a result of behind-the-scenes Communist Party factional intrigue.
Nevertheless, North Korea’s nuclear and missile programs pose an immediate national security risk for China, which shares a border with the aggressive state. Meanwhile, the Kim regime’s continued existence—which hinges on Cold War-style brinksmanship and isolationist communist tyranny—does a disservice to both the Xi Jinping leadership, which is struggling to consolidate power internally, and a China attempting to present an image of peaceful rise.
In China, the ascent to power of Xi Jinping means that the Kim family’s links to the Chinese regime are growing distant. Xi’s anti-corruption campaign has purged hundreds of powerful cadres, among them key associates of an informal Communist Party clique centered around former Party leader Jiang Zemin.
Jiang headed the Chinese Communist Party from 1989 to 2002, and wielded power behind the scenes through 2012. Under Jiang, relations with North Korea were warm, even if the Chinese regime outwardly disapproved of Pyongyang’s nuclear program, which produced its first working weapon in 2006.
One of the legacies of the Jiang leadership is widespread human rights abuses and mass murder, particularly the persecution of the Falun Gong spiritual practice ordered by the former leader in July 1999. Falun Gong adherents and those belonging to other repressed groups have been harvested for their organs and murdered on a nationwide scale.
For Jiang and his lieutenants involved in this gruesome business, holding onto power as long as possible is necessary to keep their atrocities under wraps and to avoid being held accountable for these crimes.
Today, Jiang associates are doing whatever they can to put the brakes on Xi’s anti-corruption campaign, including stirring up trouble for him on the North Korean issue. While many of Jiang’s allies have been purged, the faction’s influence still extends deep into Chinese state and business institutions.
Between 2003 and 2015, Jiang’s protégé Wang Jiarui was head of the Communist Party’s International Liaison Department, which conducts diplomacy with other revolutionary parties and North Korea in particular. Wang often accompanied Chinese leaders to North Korea.
Some of Jiang’s most powerful backers, including Politburo Standing Committee members Liu Yunshan, Zhang Dejiang, and Zhang Gaoli, all have a history of close ties with Pyongyang.
Last September, the purge of Jiang’s cohorts in the provincial leadership of Liaoning Province was quickly followed by the arrest and investigation of Ma Xiaohong, a businesswoman whose trading firm was singled out by U.

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