North Korea Dancing Girls leef_smith/flickr

China’s Resurgent Warlords

Last December, the world was appalled by the North Korean government’s execution of Chang Song-thaek, the regime’s de facto second in command and China's favorite North Korean interlocutor. It now seems that the decision was rooted in factional struggles within the Chinese Communist Party.

OSAKA – Last December, the world was appalled by the North Korean government’s execution of Chang Song-thaek, an uncle-in-law of the young Supreme Leader Kim Jong-un and the regime’s de facto second in command. Given Chang’s pivotal role in steering North Korea’s moribund economy, his execution raised serious doubts about the regime’s stability – raising fears of the collapse of a dynasty that possesses weapons of mass destruction. But, ultimately, Chang’s execution really affected only one other country, North Korea’s only international ally: China.

Five months later, there remains no clear account of the motivation behind the decision to eliminate Chang. Nonetheless, a series of in-depth analyses have offered some insight into the power struggle among North Korea’s leadership over the distribution of resources – including mining and other concessions – that are closely linked with the regime’s foreign policy.

Chang was known to have given priority to the regime’s economic survival over the development of nuclear weapons. China – North Korea’s sole supplier of oil and food – strongly supported this approach.

To continue reading, please log in or enter your email address.

To read this article from our archive, please log in or register now. After entering your email, you'll have access to two free articles from our archive every month. For unlimited access to Project Syndicate, subscribe now.


By proceeding, you agree to our Terms of Service and Privacy Policy, which describes the personal data we collect and how we use it.

Log in;

Cookies and Privacy

We use cookies to improve your experience on our website. To find out more, read our updated cookie policy and privacy policy.