The front of an annual central report meeting released by North Korea's Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) in Pyongyang. Photo: KCNA via Reuters

The debate in China regarding policy towards North Korea has grown more complex in recent years, as the North’s dire economic situation and continued military provocations weigh on Beijing. And voices calling for Beijing to take a tougher stance with Korea are growing louder.

China’s leading Korean War scholar Shen Zhihua has joined the chorus of advocates calling for the abandonment of North Korea and closer ties with the South, reports the New York Times.

“Judging by the current situation, North Korea is China’s latent enemy, and South Korea could be China’s friend,” Shen argues. He added that China “must see clearly that China and North Korea are no longer brothers in arms, and in the short term there’s no possibility of an improvement in Chinese-North Korean relations.”

The very fact that Shen’s vocal criticisms of this fundamental pillar of China’s foreign policy, echoed by other prominent academics, is tolerated by China’s establishment means that leaders in Beijing are sympathetic to the view. While a major shift in China’s approach to the Korean dilemma is unlikely, it very well may be on the table.

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