This is an interesting opinion piece on China.org.cn that claims that China’s “former close allies like the [sic] North Korea, Myanmar and Pakistan are opening up to the West.” The column says the following regarding North Korea:
The North Korea is the county which China assists the most. However, it no longer treats China as a close friend. Instead, it wants to build direct relations with the U.S. The two countries have signed a mutual non-aggression treaty and established trade connections.
Note: There is not a mutual non-aggression treaty between the DPRK and US, nor are there established trade connections. This is mistranslated from the original Chinese article which says that North Korea is seeking a non-aggression treaty and trade connections with the US.
Compared with China, no other big country spends so much on its allies but gains so little reward or respect. China has mediated and promoted talks between the North Korea and the U.S., but neither of the two nations has embraced these efforts. As Kim Jong-Un becomes the country’s new leader, how much the DPRK will respect China has yet to be seen.
A couple points of interest on the above text:
It is interesting to see Sino-Korean relations framed in the context of friendship or personal relations, particularly of respect. You also often find this in inter-Korean relations too, with either side doubting the other’s sincerity, or demanding apologies. I also often hear South Korean friends complain that South Korean aid to North Korea should somehow win over North Korean friendship and respect. However, from personal experience, while the North Korean government may talk in these terms, most North Koreans do not. This is another reason I see a bright future for American-DPRK co-operation in contrast to Sino-DPRK relations and/or North-South Korean friendship.
Over the years I’ve found personal relationships (not business, or work) with North Koreans to be very different than South Koreans and Chinese. In South Korea and China, not always but often, friendship (at least to a westerner) seems very much to be framed in terms of what can this person do for me, or how does this person fit into my personal network. Talk to many North Korean defectors and they will tell you the exact same thing.
Many North Koreans and westerners, however, seem to work off a common understanding that a friendship requires a kind of equality. If someone somehow falls into a rigid hierarchy (South Korea), or you find yourself asking how can this person be useful to me (South Korea and China), then it is not friendship, and in fact, probably a harmful situation to be avoided. Of course, personal hierarchy exists in North Korea, but there seems to be more leeway at least in terms of person to person relations (not in respect to the leadership). For instance, in negotiations it is not uncommon to see the highest ranking official consult and debate with lower level personal before coming to a consensus. From my own observations, North Koreans, even when there is a large age difference, seem to very much engage and enjoy two-way conversation, which I have found a rarity in the south.
It makes sense then, at least to me, that North Koreans probably feel much more comfortable dealing with the United States because the negotiations are very much more a matter of ‘give and take’ on what they can see as equal terms rather than being drawn into Chinese demands for respect and South Korean claims that they somehow deserve friendship.
Of course, there are large obstacles to DPRK-US rapprochement, however, once these are overcome I foresee a bright future in relations between the two countries.