North Korea purchased thousands of military vehicles from China that have been transported into the country over the course of the past month, according to the Chosun Ilbo.
The South Korean paper says that between 3,000 and 4,000 Chinese-made military trucks and jeeps entered North Korea last month, at a rate of about 100 a day, according to video clips obtained by the paper.
‘Analysis of the footage suggests the trucks were 6-ton trucks made by FAW Car Limited Company. North Korean leader Kim Jong-il visited the headquarters of this firm in Changchun, Jilin, during his visit to China in May,’ it reported. ‘The military jeeps were manufactured by Beijing Automobile Works with engine capacity of 2,200 cc and 100 horsepower.’
The news is something of a blow to those hoping to see Beijing tighten the screws on Pyongyang. China is still widely seen as the only country with any real leverage over the Hermit Kingdom, a point underscored by Kim’s recent rare foreign visits to China.
Writing for The Diplomat earlier this year, Korea watcher L. Gordon Flake likened China’s support for Kim’s regime to enabling a drug addict.
‘A caring parent motivated by love may continue to provide housing, money and transportation to a wayward child,’ he said. ‘China’s decision to ignore the evidence on the sinking of the Cheonan, to host Kim Jong-il not once but twice in the wake of that tragedy, and more recently to not only refuse to call North Korea to task for shelling civilians, but to actually block action by the UN Security Council to condemn disturbing developments in North Korea’s nuclear programme, may have been motivated by a concern for internal stability in North Korea. In both cases, however, the effect is equally counterproductive.’
The news on the military trucks comes at an interesting time, coinciding with a trip by Kim to Russia. The visit is looking increasingly like part of a North Korean effort to pave the way for a return to the stalled Six-Party Talks on the country’s denuclearization.
According to reports, North Korea is dangling the prospect of a nuclear moratorium (with more hand-outs presumably expected in return), a move seen as making a return to the negotiating table possible.
Talk of a moratorium came during a meeting between Kim and Russian President Dmitry Medvedev held at a Siberian military base, marking the first such meeting between the two ex-Cold War allies for almost a decade.
According to The Telegraph, a spokeswoman for Medvedev said Kim was ready to resume talks that have been stalled since 2009, without preconditions. ‘The spokesman stated that “in the course of the talks North Korea will be ready to resolve the question of imposing a moratorium on tests and production of nuclear missile weapons.”’
A moratorium would clearly be welcomed by the United States. Then-Defence Secretary Robert Gates said in January during a trip to Beijing that a moratorium on both nuclear and missile tests was a necessary step if the Six-Party Talks are to be restarted.
‘With the North Koreans’ continuing development of nuclear weapons and their development of intercontinental ballistic missiles, North Korea is becoming a direct threat to the United States, and we have to take that into account,’ Gates said then.
All this comes at a time when North Korea faces the prospect of renewed famine after a series of floods left some provinces devastated. VOA News reports that the organization yesterday launched an emergency appeal for $4.5 million following assessments carried out by the Red Cross in the country that found that in some areas of South Hwanghae Province, 50 percent of homes had been destroyed and 90 percent had been damaged.
But the Korea Times suggests in an editorial that there’s another reason for the trip to Russia – to try to reduce dependence on China.
‘North Korean officials apparently feel the need to move toward Russia as part of efforts to reduce the North’s ever-rising dependence on China for its survival,’ it says.‘If that is the case, the North’s move could be reminiscent of its past equidistance diplomacy involving China and the Soviet Union.’