With friends like North Korea, who needs enemies? That’s probably what China was thinking after yet another round of needless chest-thumping by its “ally” North Korea reminded all Asia why it might not be such a bad idea to keep the U.S. active and engaged in the region. The Wall Street Journal reports (subscription required) that
North Korea rebuked Japan for what it saw as a lack of respect over the death of Kim Jong Il and called Tokyo “the laughingstock of the world” because of its frequent changes of government—the latest indication Pyongyang’s new regime has no interest in improving relations with countries it considers foes.
Pyongyang’s state news agency used virtually identical language to its admonishment last week of South Korea. The comments show the regime now led by Kim Jong Il’s son Kim Jong Eun appears to be returning to its traditional pattern of lashing out at the countries it has long portrayed to its citizens as enemies: South Korea, Japan and the U.S.
As the head of state changes in “the world’s most stable” dictatorship, the regime wants everyone to be clear that nothing other than the first name of the ruling Kim will change. Meanwhile, the United States and its allies in the region are planning to step-up their security operations:
[T]he South Korean Ministry of National Defense said it would sign a new joint operational plan with the U.S., its chief ally, this month and increase the number of annual joint exercises.
China’s alliance with North Korea has always been a marriage of convenience, but the bride isn’t any better looking or sweeter tempered as the years go by. Unfortunately, China doesn’t have many options. If the Kim dynasty were to collapse, it would likely send millions of refuges across the Yalu River, creating widespread chaos in Manchuria. Nevertheless China now sees North Korea not so much as an asset but as a liability that must be tolerated. China and North Korea may still be “closer than lips and teeth” in Chairman Mao’s old phrase, but the teeth are gritted and the jaw is clenched.