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See No Evil, Hear No Evil…?

China doesn’t like non-Chinese poking their noses into Chinese business. To their credit, they don’t poke their noses into other people’s business, either. Andreas Ni calls it “see no evil” diplomacy, and as China expands its international presence, coupled with support for oppressive regimes likes Burma, Sudan and North Korea, it might an policy that is ripe for an overhaul.

The problem is that by supporting these dictatorships, China sends the message to the international community that it’s not serious about being a world power to be reckoned with. The idea of non interference is commendable, but when innocents are being slaughtered by the own governments, most leaders would actually think that doing something to encourage freedom growth would be a good thing. Perhaps Beijing is all too aware of how the international community sees it – with the ghost of Tiananmen still haunting the movers and shakers in the Great Hall of the People, would it really be a good idea to criticize other countries that are doing the same? Is it really because of one embarrassing incident handled badly that Beijing throws a deaf ear and turns a blind eye to similar atrocities in other countries?

China’s rocky relationship with African nations is a curious one. The Chinese themselves haven’t made a secret of the apparent dislike of black people, and it has less to do with the violent images of blacks that have been imported from the US than you might think. During the height of the Cold War, Mao linked the idea of class struggle with the struggle against western imperialists. Third World countries were obvious victims of the imperialists, despite the best efforts of Bob Geldof, and China cemented the brotherly relationship with stipends and special dispensation for African students who wanted to study in the People’s Republic.

The idea didn’t turn out to be as good as expected. In 1979, a fight broke out between African students and Chinese locals in Shanghai, things had come to a head as the central government donated ever increasing amounts to African countries. The situation didn’t improve – differences in attitudes towards dating and the realization by the Chinese locals that the African guests had more rights that they did escalated tensions. More and more African students found themselves being arrested and deported from whence they came.

The Nanjing riots broke out in December 1988. A brawl that broke out on the campus of Hehai University during a Christmas Eve party eventually led to some 300 students chanting “kill the black devils”. Fearing for their lives, anyone who wasn’t Chinese ended up knocking on the doors of their respective embassies begging for protection. The numbers of Chinese protestors swelled to 3000 as they converged on the local rail station demanding more rights for Chinese, and that the African students be booted out of the country.

The attitude of the Chinese towards blacks hasn’t improved, and a wave of anti-Chinese protests broke out across Africa in 2007. Zambians have been especially unimpressed by the treatment of workers and their families when several miners died in yet another accident at a Chinese owned mine. In order to maintain access to the mine, China threatened to pull out of the country, taking its money with it, abandoning the sacred idea of non-interference for its own economic gain. It seems that in the pursuit of control over natural resources, China might have more in common with America that it’s cares to admit to.

Much spin can be put on the specific reasons as to why the Chinese administration continues to support one of the world’s most oppressive regimes. In their defense, they can claim that they are helping a starving nation where no one else lifted a finger, a cynic might suggest that they are simply eyeing up the mineral wealth that lies above the DMZ, while others might point out that having a buffer between the world’s largest army and the 29,000 troops stationed in South Korea.

As North Korea headed towards the launch of its Taepodong-2 missile, it seemed that the international community was turning to China in an effort to convince the DPRK’s administration that a launch would be a Very Bad Idea. When communism first swept through China and Korea, it did so with the backing of the USSR. As the launch date approached, the US and UN asked Russia and China to try to convince North Korea to step down from the launchpad. I guess the reasoning behind the request was that China is communist (and so is North Korea) and that Russia was communist, so a somewhat friendlier face was presented to try to dissuade the North from launching its rocket/missile.

Which goes to show how far the US and the rest of the international community has come in the years since the Cuban Missile Crisis and the Korean War.

When communism swept through Asia, it did so on the back of military and financial help from the USSR, they gave both the Chinese and the Koreans weapons, tanks, farming equipment, machines for their factories, essentially everything that an up and coming communist state should have. Unfortunately, since most of communist leaders since and including Stalin have been megalomaniacal dictators, the political capital that the USSR invested in states like the PRC and the DPRK quickly withered. Mao turned on the Soviets by encouraging skirmishes along the China/Russia border and developing his Mao Zedong Thought, while later, Kim Jong-il locked almost everyone out of the picture completely with the consolidation of his juche ideology.

There are only two connections between the PRC and the DPRK. One is the historical fact that Chinese soldiers were sent to fight alongside the North Koreans during the (as yet unfinished) Korean War and the other one is that China is probably the only country that hasn’t established any kind of trade sanctions on the hermit kingdom. They’re not only refusing not to trade with them, they’re actually increasing their trade – goods to the the tune of $1billion crossed the Yalu River in the first half of 2008. The figures don’t include the illegal drug trade that border guards on both sides take part in, or the odd homeless North Korean child that manages to slip across to sell puppies and sing songs for spare change.

The successive Chinese governments have lambasted the two Kims since the Korean peninsula was bisected across the 38th Parallel. First, the elder Kim was criticized for looking too fat, less like a proletarian leader, and more like a czar. Then there was the matter of Kim il-Sung’s massive statue in Kim il-Sung Square that the whole thing had been clad in gold didn’t sit well with the Chinese Politburo. When Kim il-Sung died in 1994, the Chinese media didn’t even mention Kim Jong-il in the official news reports.

So the question is, why is everyone asking China to tell Kim Jong-il what to do? The man clearly doesn’t listen to any of his own advisors, and they’re not shy about not paying back any debts they might owe (a grand total of $10-12billion, Japan has declared the entire country in default on what it owes to the Japanese), and the whole idea of juche means that the North Koreans should rebuild Korea by themselves. True enough that the major player in the continents 6-party talks was China – they’ve managed to repeatedly bring the North Koreans to the discussions – but after Korea’s nuclear test, and Beijing’s approval of the UN resolution 1718, the relationship has become more and more strained, and the government eyes China’s apparent closeness with the US with increasing distrust.

While diplomatic decisions are fairly easy to influence, military decisions are much more difficult. China does has the proper expertise in this area, understanding that public humiliation of North Korea won’t work, and has openly commented that this kind of pressuring diplomacy is counterproductive. The simple fact of the matter is that Americans massively overestimate China’s influence on North Korea.

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