In the days since North Korea bombed a South Korean island, ostensibly over a maritime border dispute, the United States is hoping that China will step in and pressure North Korea to refrain from such attacks in the future. However, given that the Chinese government won’t even condemn the attacks, it is likely that this is simply Washington passing the buck to Beijing.
It was only months ago that North Korean dictator Kim Jung-Il secretly visited China via a specially armored train-a visit which China did not publicize. And while the visit may have been partly an opportunity for Kim Jung-Il’s son to meet leaders in China in advance of his succession, the issue of North Korea’s nuclear program must surely have come up as well.
Many analysts believe that North Korea had significant help from China in the construction of an ultra high-tech uranium enrichment plant. At the very least the Chinese must have known about the centrifuges, as they likely know that Kim Jung-Il has dozens of nuclear weapons.
The situation inside North Korea remains dire for the average citizen, and there are hints of anger at Kim Jung-Il’s currency devaluation, which worsened the economic picture, as has Kim Jung-Il’s decision to suspend almost all trade. Starvation is a real possibility for millions of North Koreans, and one in three North Korean children under the age of 5 are malnourished.
For these reasons, and others, North Koreans are increasingly criticizing their government in public. Which means that it is possible that Kim Jung-Il’s latest drama was staged primarily for a domestic audience. As his son is being quickly transitioned into a position of power in the country, a window of opportunity for dissidents has opened up due to the confluence of economic strife, political uncertainty, and growing anger at the government.