Why is China still protecting North Korea

North Korea's dictator Kim Jong Un is not a clown. And no, he's not crazy either. Everything he does comes from cool calculation. Every nuclear weapon test and every missile launch serves one goal: His regime must survive. The nuclear weapons and missile programs are the life insurance in this otherwise bankrupt regime in every respect.

To achieve his goal, Kim does not seek war, but attention - first and foremost, the attention of the USA. The US is the only power North Korea really wants to negotiate with. The USA were once the opponents of the civil war, with them you share the ceasefire agreement of 1953, you want a real peace treaty from them that in fact guarantees the existence of the state. As long as Kim Jong Un does not get the answer he wants, he will continue to follow the logic of escalation and threats. He accepts that the risks will continue to grow.

Beijing has a problem with Pyongyang: it is demonstrated

The question is whether China is also aware of this logic and shares the risk. China is often called North Korea's only ally, but for years this two-party alliance has been marked by distrust and bitterness. Communication even collapsed at times. That is why Pyongyang calls for Beijing's attention when it launches a missile. If this rocket then also takes off for the Spring Festival, the highest festival in China, then the message is abundantly clear.

Many in China have seen this as humiliation, the leadership will be angry. The fact that it once again only urges the United States to exercise restraint and oppose excessively harsh sanctions is in turn due to China's own cool calculation.

China's leadership can be believed when they say they don't want nuclear weapons in North Korea. A nuclear armament and a missile system would lead to an arms race with Japan and South Korea, and the US would inevitably become more involved on the part of its allies. This is completely against the interests of China. Many therefore wonder why China's strong man Xi Jinping even tolerates Kim Jong Un's fires. From the Chinese point of view, the answer is: Because at the moment it is still the lesser of two evils.

There is an overriding motive for Beijing to protect itself from Kim: the fear that North Korea could become a danger to China itself. This fear is far greater than that of a reunified capitalist Korea. North Korea becomes a danger when the regime collapses, when hunger or civil war plunges the country into chaos and millions upon millions of refugees push across the joint 1,400-kilometer border. Then North Korea would become the Syria of East Asia.

That is why China has long been undermining the existing sanctions for which it voted itself in the UN Security Council. That is why there are more Chinese cars on the streets of Pyongyang every year, and therefore there is no shortage of fuel or grain.

The relationship has been pretty icy since Kim took office. China's party leader Xi is busy traveling around the world, but he has not yet met his neighbor Kim Jong Un three years after taking office. On the other hand, he invited his great rival, South Korean President Park Geun Hye, of all places, to the great military parade in Beijing last September. Lately there had been attempts to get closer together, high-ranking emissaries from Beijing traveled to Pyongyang, while China's censors at home forbade Internet users to ridicule "fat Kim". Kim didn't really thank Kim.

In a way, Kim's regime has held China hostage. The amazing thing is that Beijing allows this to happen. Especially since Kim's activities are not only becoming more and more dangerous, but are already damaging China. Just hours after the missile test, South Korea announced the formal opening of negotiations with the US on the regional THAAD missile defense system. Seoul must be disappointed with the impotence of the Chinese Kim diplomacy. The THAAD announcement is a nightmare for China's leadership; after all, their strategic goal is to gradually push the USA back from East Asia.

Much has been said about China's new power. The case of North Korea shows an astonishingly timid, sometimes helpless China. On Sunday it became clear once again that there is only one power that really counts for North and South Korea: the USA.