A Chinese Communist Party expert on North Korea says it could pose a security threat to China and expects talks between Pyongyang and Washington to resume whether or not US President Donald Trump wins a second term in November.
Zhang Liangui, professor of international strategic research at the Central Party School, said that the demolition of the inter-Korea liaison office in the border city of Kaesong last month highlighted the geopolitical risk China faced should ties between North and South Korea become unstable.
"If one day North Korea takes military actions against the South, geopolitics dictates that China, as a neighbouring country, will inevitably be dragged into it, whether we like it or not," he said.
The Central Party School is both a think tank and a training school for Chinese leaders. Zhang, who has studied Korean issues for decades, is considered one of China's top experts on North Korea.
He said that the destruction of the liaison office by North Korea last month was meant to show Pyongyang's displeasure with Seoul over issues such as South Korea's ties to the United States, and its failures to provide economic assistance and help to lift sanctions on North Korea.
Taking advantage of the thaw between the two Koreas following the Pyeongchang Winter Olympics, North Korea launched the "special envoy diplomacy" with South Korea in February 2018.
However, the warming of ties didn't last and North Korea began to step up its criticism of the South last year. "The underlying reason is that [North Korean leader] Kim Jong-un felt he has been let down by South Korea," Zhang said.
The new book by former US national security adviser John Bolton, Zhang said, suggests that the US could either continue to apply maximum economic pressure on North Korea or resort to military actions.
Zhang believes that US policymakers have concluded it would be to Washington's advantage to let North Korea hold onto part of its nuclear arsenal and negotiate with Kim only on give up his long-range missiles.
"The US has come to realise that it would be good for them to leave a nuclear-armed country right on China's doorstep," he said.
"If Trump is re-elected, he will begin dealing with North Korea again, and he'll have two options. One is to press on to force North Korea giving up its nuclear weapons completely, verifiably and irreversibly. If this cannot be achieved, then military force will be considered."
Trump and Kim at the demilitarised zone in Panmunjom, South Korea, on June 30, 2019. Photo: Reuters alt=Trump and Kim at the demilitarised zone in Panmunjom, South Korea, on June 30, 2019. Photo: Reuters
"Which option that he will choose may depend on how China-US relations go," he continued. "[It is entirely possible] that the US and North Korea may establish ties one day [regardless of where China stands]."
Zhang said that the outcome would be the same if Joe Biden, the Democratic Party's presumptive presidential nominee, defeats Trump in November " since both Republicans and Democrats have similar positions on China.
Zhang said China should be worried about North Korea's nuclear stockpiles because the country has a fragile economy.
"If a regime is struggling for survival, it may drag someone down with it," he said. "To use the same rhetoric by the Americans, North Korea is a failed state. Its economy is in a bad shape, and it is isolated diplomatically."
"Very few people in China realise how big a threat North Korea can be."
"A small nation which has nuclear arms can be a serious security threat for the world," Zhang said.
"We should bear in mind what our ancestors have taught us " make friends from afar and attack enemies who are near."
This article originally appeared in the South China Morning Post (SCMP), the most authoritative voice reporting on China and Asia for more than a century. For more SCMP stories, please explore the SCMP app or visit the SCMP's Facebook and Twitter pages. Copyright © 2020 South China Morning Post Publishers Ltd. All rights reserved.
Copyright (c) 2020. South China Morning Post Publishers Ltd. All rights reserved.