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China’s Choice in North Korea

TOKYO – If the most dangerous moment for any dictatorship is when it starts to reform, North Korea looks ready to turn that truism on its head. Its recent shelling of South Korea suggests that the failing Kim dynasty might set East Asia alight rather than undertake any serious reform. If peace really is the key component of China’s rise, the Chinese must now rein in their mercurial client.

Trying to understand the “Hermit Kingdom” can be like staring into a black hole. Some view the bombardment of South Korea’s Yeonpyeong Island as a bid to divert North Koreans’ attention from their country’s collapsing economy, or perhaps from the approaching death of their “Dear Leader,” Kim Jong-il, or to create a synthetic reputation as a military leader for Kim’s son and intended heir, the 27-year-old (or so) “Young General,” Kim Jong-un. Others view the attack as simply another in a long line of provocations, and thus not to be taken all that seriously.