Brinkmanship in the Yellow Sea

Authoritarian regimes are hard to predict in terms of why they make specific decisions -- when major shifts are likely in their foreign policy, even on issues of high politics; and especially how candid those regimes are in dealing with each other. These are some of the bewildering issues involving Sino-North Korean relations. We know that North Korea is heavily dependent for its survival as a state on China’s economic assistance. However, it is anyone’s guess how much leeway Beijing has granted to Kim Jong Il. North Korea specialists in Washington do little better than their Kremlinologist counterparts did during the Cold War years in understanding and predicting the decisions taken by the leaders of the Soviet Union.

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