A leaked U.S. State Department cable from February this year, newly made public by WikiLeaks, reports a grim view of China’s leverage over North Korea held by South Korea’s Vice Foreign Minister, Chun Yung-woo. Chun reportedly told American officials that China would be unable to prevent North Korea’s collapse within two to three years of the death of Kim Jong Il, and that it had “far less influence on North Korea ‘than most people believe’.” Chun also said that “Beijing had ‘no will’ to use its economic leverage to force a change in Pyongyang’s policies and the [North Korean] leadership ‘knows it’.”
Without China being prepared to push North Korea to the brink of collapse, Chun thought, Kim’s regime would continue not to take any meaningful steps on denuclearization. Chun also denigrated the abilities of Wu Dawei, head of China’s delegation to the six-party talks on the denuclearization of the peninsula, whom he characterized as a bombastic hardline nationalist blowhard and whom he said was “the most incompetent official in China”.
Wu stood in contrast, Chun said, to the younger generation of China’s Korea policymakers who saw little value to China in North Korea acting as a buffer state between it and South Korea, and who would also tolerate a Seoul-controlled unification government on the peninsula in the event of North Korea’s collapse, provided it was not hostile to Beijing. They would “not welcome” U.S. troops north of the DMZ, however, Chun ventured, but would be reassured by trade and investment opportunities for Chinese companies. Chun also noted that Toyko’s preference was to keep the peninsular divided.