Brent Scowcroft Center Senior Fellow Robert Manning writes for the National Interest on China’s relationship with North Korea and South Korea:
China is playing good cop/bad cop with South Korea in ways that may be detrimental to the Republic of Korea’s (ROK) security and the U.S.-ROK alliance. While Xi Jinping’s visit to Seoul (pointedly snubbing North Korea) last July was a seductive move to woo the ROK, Chinese defense minister Chang Wanquan’s warning against the ROK deploying U.S. THAAD missile-defense systems earlier this month sought to intimidate Seoul.
Putting the squeeze on Seoul over missile defense is yet another effort by Beijing to have it both ways. On the one hand, China keeps North Korea on life support as Pyongyang builds ever-more-capable ballistic missiles and nuclear weapons. It provides North Korea with oil, food and other goods and also protects it at the UN after Pyongyang’s various provocations. This support both ensures the continued division of Korea and helps China maintain a buffer between itself and U.S.-allied South Korea.