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China 'walking a fine line' in dealing with N. Korea: expert

North Korea's growing dependence on China, reflected by the launch of new joint economic zones along their border, drives discord among parties seeking to curb North Korea's nuclear weapons drive, experts here said Friday.

   Jonathan Pollack, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution,
pointed out that China is taking advantage of the flexible
implementation of the U.N. Security Council resolution adopted in
2009 to punish Pyongyang for its second nuclear test.

   "It's important to note that the way the Security Council
resolution following the nuclear test in 2009 was drafted, it has a
sufficiently elastic quality that the Chinese can and do argue that
what they are doing is not in defiance of the sanctions, since the
sanctions do not place any restrictions on normal economic
collaboration between states or to humanitarian assistance," he
said at a forum to mark the publication his new book, "No Exit:
North Korea, Nuclear Weapons and International Security."

   He said that the Chinese are walking a fine line, however.

   "It does seem to me that the increase of their assistance to
the North and the North's growing dependence on China, where
perhaps now 75-80 percent of North Korea's trade is with China,
creates the problem of divisions within those trying to inhibit
North Korea's nuclear weapons development," he added.

   He cited differences between China, which continues to provide
the North with an option for economic progress through
collaboration, and others who do not expect any kind of successful realization.

   He was referring to a recent initiative by North Korea and
China, its closest political and economic ally, to create joint
economic complexes on the sandy islands of Hwanggumpyong and Wihwa
along their river border.

   The move came shortly after the North's leader, Kim Jong-il,
visited China and held summit talks with President Hu Jintao late
last month.

   For China, Pollack said, it is an indirect way for economic
collaboration with North Korea without alarming the reclusive
communist nation that the outside world might make excessive
inroads into it.

   Jack Pritchard, president of Korea Economic Institute, noted
the timing of the special economic zones announcement.

   He recalled the exchange of trips by Chinese President Hu
Jintao and the North's leader in October 2005 and January 2006. At
that time, Kim's request for massive economic assistance was
reportedly turned down by Hu, and the North went ahead with a
nuclear test in October 2006.

   A very important question is whether China is worried that
"something bad can happen in connection with this," he said.

   Reviewing the Obama administration's policy on Pyongyang,
meanwhile, Pollack and Pritchard agreed that its ultimate goal
seems to be minimizing risk instead of seeking the unrealistic goal
of coaxing the North into abandoning its nuclear weapons program.

   They said history shows that it would be more difficult to
persuade the North to abandon its nuclear ambitions, especially in
a hereditary succession process. They said the North's founding
leader, the late Kim Il-sung, decided to pursue nuclear weapons
partly for a smooth and stable handover of power to his son, Jong-il.

   With regard to South Korea's planned hosting of the second
Nuclear Security Summit, Pollack said it would deepen Pyongyang's
dilemma over how to cope with "the fact that South Korea's
presence, its diplomacy, its economic power, its political weight
continue to rise even as North Korea remains holding on to these
bedrock convictions about standing apart from the international system."

  Of course, China gives North Korea some breathing room, he said,
adding it doesn't address the bigger issue of how does North Korea
make its own way in the world, however. (Yonhap News)

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