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Will China make North Korea back down?
Beijing has reportedly agreed to sanctions as punishment for North Korea's latest nuclear test. Is China finally joining the global front against its erratic communist ally?
U.S. Ambassador to China Gary Locke is mobbed by journalists as he attends the opening session of the annual National People's Congress in Beijing.
U.S. Ambassador to China Gary Locke is mobbed by journalists as he attends the opening session of the annual National People's Congress in Beijing. AP Photo/Andy Wong
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hina has reportedly reached a deal with the U.S. over sanctions to punish North Korea for its nuclear test last month. Beijing is insisting that any new measures aiming to force it to rein in its nuclear program and long-range rocket research must be "prudent and moderate," so they won't just make tensions worse between world leaders and the Hermit Kingdom's mysterious and bellicose leadership. North Korea's young new dictator, Kim Jong Un, is threatening to scrap the 60-year-old ceasefire with South Korea if the U.N. Security Council approves new sanctions. Will China take a strong enough stand to get Pyongyang to cool the war-like rhetoric?

It certainly looks as if Kim's intransigence is going to force Beijing's hand — probably sooner rather than later. "Normally, a country with only one friend in the world would take heed when that friend joins everyone else in imposing sanctions," says Ed Morrissey at Hot Air. "Not the Kim regime, though." The fact that it responded to a "relatively blunt message" from its last defender on the planet by threatening to go to war suggests that China, which is afraid that military action in neighboring North Korea could spark a wave of refugees, is going to be forced to bring the hammer down.

Any military action by Pyongyang will get a military response, and the refugees will indeed come streaming over the border, as China fears. Before that happens, China might decide to finally decapitate the Kim monarchy, and stop a war and its inevitable refugee flood before it starts. Kim Jong-un and his clique are playing with fire, and either can't or won't realize that they are very much all alone in their zeal for war. [Hot Air]

Not everyone expects China to follow through, though. China is North Korea's only ally, says Peter Ford at The Christian Science Monitor, so it's certainly in a unique sense to talk sense to Pyongyang, or instill a healthy dose of fear in Kim. But world leaders have been trying for 20 years to get Beijing to help "deter North Korea from pursuing its dream of possessing nuclear weapons," with no luck. Unfortunately, despite China's stern words in recent days, Ford suggests, it's probably still not ready to really get tough.

A new government takes over in Beijing this week, but analysts here do not expect the new president, Xi Jinping, to differ significantly from his predecessor when it comes to relations with North Korea — despite recent reports that China has agreed to support a new round of United Nations sanctions against the North...

"There might be a change in our leaders' words and their tone, sending a more serious message to North Korea," predicts Sun Zhe, a professor at Tsinghua University's Institute of Modern International Relations in Beijing. "But I don't think that the fundamentals will change." [Christian Science Monitor]

Nevertheless, some experts say, there's reason to believe China might finally be coming around. Some influential voices in China are arguing "that China should reconsider its alliance with the country," says Walter Russell Mead at The American Interest. "China was saturated with anti-North Korean sentiment" after last month's nuclear test — North Korea's third — "with Chinese citizens protesting across the country. Now the new president Xi Jinping is even saying that has government will explore new policies towards the country. Either a very deep game is being played, or Pyongyang has cause to worry about Chinese support."

What has to be making Pyongyang nervous is that there is some very solid geopolitical logic behind a Chinese switch from Pyongyang to Seoul as its principal partner on the Korean peninsula. Offering to help broker gradual Korean unification (after Germany's experience, South Koreans want a go-slow process that would limit the cost of reunion) in exchange for substantial reductions in the U.S. troop presence in South Korea, for instance, would be a substantial diplomatic and security advance for China. [American Interest]

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