July 11, 2020

Prodigal Son: Will an exasperated China turn to Kim Jong Nam?
At what point does a fed-up Beijing look elsewhere in the Kim family to uphold its interests?

Kim Jong Un’s decision to launch a long-range missile on the eve of the Lunar New Year was the second time in his just over four-year reign that he has deliberately provoked Beijing on China’s most important holiday. In 2013 he set off a nuclear device on February 12, two days into Lunar New Year celebrations, sending highly irritated Chinese bureaucrats scrambling back to their desks in Beijing from family gatherings in their ancestral home towns. Now he has done it again. In a February 3 article entitled “North Korea’s rocket plans seen as disrespectful to China,” the Associated Press noted that “The timing couldn't have appeared worse. North Korea announces it will launch a long-range rocket smack in the middle of a top Chinese envoy's visit to Pyongyang. In diplomatic terms, it was yet another sign of disrespect for North Korea's chief ally. Adding to the indignity: The launch window for the rocket, which critics say is a banned test of ballistic missile technology, falls during the Lunar New Year, casting a shadow over China's most important seasonal holiday.”

The article was referring to the early February visit of China’s chief North Korea nuclear negotiator, Wu Dawei, who arrived on a mission to convince Pyongyang to forego the expected missile launch. Wu reportedly told reporters upon returning to Beijing empty-handed that he "said what had to be said, and did what was supposed to be done." China had sent other clear signals to Pyongyang NOT to go forward with the recent missile launch. Beijing’s state organ the Global Times published an editorial at the end of January that warned that North Korea was “headed on a path of peril” and that if it continued to develop its nuclear arsenal it “should not expect China’s protection.” Kim Jong Un obviously spurned these admonitions.