Will China's Xi Jinping take a harder line on North Korea if radiation from nuclear tests threaten China?

While Zhu Feng’s views on the South China Sea are largely in line with those of policy makers in Beijing, his recommendation for how China should deal with North Korea is a different story.

Executive Director of Nanjing University’s China Center for Collaborative Studies of the South China Sea and renowned North Korea scholar, previously based at Peking University, Zhu is well respected inside of China, and he has a message for his country’s leaders: give up on North Korea.

From an English rendition of Zhu’s recent calls for Beijing to change their tune on North Korea, published in Foreign Policy on Tuesday:

“Today, many within China believe that Beijing must reevaluate its relationship with both Koreas, which essentially means abandoning Pyongyang. It is both the strategic and the moral choice. Choosing South Korea, a democracy with a strong economy, will place China on the right side of history. China’s lack of clear direction on this issue is beginning to negatively affect its reputation, with Beijing seen by the international community as reluctant to cooperate or behave responsibly. These are not traits that behoove a rising power.

Beijing’s one policy option

Going forward, China has three options: it can work more closely with the United States on getting tougher on North Korea, continue to drag its feet and avoid rocking the boat, or reinforce its alignment with Russia and use North Korea as a piece in a geopolitical chess game against the United States and South Korea. Of these options, only the first choice aligns with China’s long-term interests to integrate with the international community. The question is how to ease Beijing’s hesitations regarding this choice. In other words, how can the hawks in Beijing be brushed aside to make way for a more decisive and progressive policy while continuing to save face for all decision makers?

There are no easy answers, but the U.S.-China bilateral relationship is certainly a priority for Xi, particularly because of the strong anti-China elements within the Trump administration. The best way to improve the relationship is by cooperating on North Korean denuclearization, which would bring China the added benefit of increased regional security.”

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