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5 reasons why China won't help the US on North Korea

North Korea tested its third nuclear device in February after launching the equivalent of an intercontinental ballistic missile in December.

Then the Kim regime threatened to rain missiles on Hawaii and Guam with the hope, it is widely thought, that the world would accept the North as a normal, nuclear power. US policymakers believe China, on whom the North is heavily dependent, can exercise leverage and help the US get North Korea to step into line.

During an April visit to Beijing, chairman of the US Joint Chiefs of Staff Martin Dempsey said the Chinese were working to help with the North, “But, I didn’t gain any insights into particularly how they would do that,” he said.  

Many Asia watchers are dubious that China either can or will take decisive action to push North Korea. Here are five underlying reasons why:

By , Staff writer

Image

A Chinese soldier stands guard at the main entrance of the Bayi Building where Gen. Martin Dempsey, US chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, are meeting with Chinese military officials in Beijing, Tuesday.

Andy Wong/AP

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1. China needs friends

China wants to fulfill international expectations and live up to its emerging status as a great power, but it has a long history with North Korea. China might be nervous, say analysts, that the North could actually get serious one-on-one talks with Washington and flip loyalties.

Many Chinese look at North Korea – isolated, poor, ideological – and see themselves 30 years ago. Back then China and the North were as “close as lips and teeth” – fellow traveling revolutionaries and former war partners against the imperialists.  

But the world is changing. When Beijing looks around Asia, it can see some abrupt flips of position and loyalty: Myanmar, one of China’s previous pets, suddenly looks like it may come out of its dark cocoon and make friends with others. Vietnam, long a Chinese fellow-traveler, has turned away as well. China may not want to lose such a strategic card and partner as the North.

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