No matter what happens in the international arena, China has made it clear that it is not going to stand down on its expansionist ambitions to extend its global territorial influence through the recreation of its new Silk Road trade route and to play the Asian bully.
And while the rest of the civilized world may hem and haw as the newly reawakened economic dragon of the East brazenly invades the international maritime rights of its fellow countries in the South China Sea and bald-facedly flaunt its violations of World Trade Organization (WTO) regulations regarding copyrights and labor laws, Beijing knows that, for the most part, nobody is going to try to stop it.
Of course, the fact that China now accounts for nearly $4 trillion in total imports and exports — making it the world’s largest trading nation in terms of goods — does explain some of its unabashed arrogance, the real reason that Beijing can get away with so many international violations is it’s ace in the hole.
As it stands now, China is the only country that has any influence over North Korea, mainly because it not only defends the maniacal and reprehensible rantings and nuclear tantrums of Pyongyang’s 32-year-old mercurial dictator, Kim Jong-un, but also because it is the hermit nation’s largest source of financial support.
For decades, China has constituted a vital financial lifeline for North Korea.
In fact, Beijing purchases a staggering 87 percent of all of North Korea’s total exports, with India, Pakistan, Nigeria and Brazil making up the bulk of its other buyers.
Moreover, Beijing maintains a serious trade surplus with Pyongyang, selling it about $3.5 billion in goods and services each year.
And as long as Kim continues to kowtow to Sugar Daddy Xi Jinping, China has a dangerously unruly megalomaniac brat that it can dangle over the heads of other countries.
But there is an inherent danger in Beijing’s exploitation of its influence over Pyongyang, and that is that Kim is becoming progressively more disobedient.
In the past few months, Beijing has tried to discipline its rebellious prodigy by threatening to cut off coal purchases from Pyongyang.
Coal is North Korea’s biggest export (representing roughly a third of its total $3 billion in annual overseas sales), and China is its biggest buyer of the solid hydrocarbon fuel.
More than 95 percent of North Korea’s coal has traditionally been sold to China.
But even Xi’s threat of what would essentially constitute a total economic stoppage for North Korea has not been able to reel in the treacherously recalcitrant Kim.
And with an arsenal of nuclear weapons as his play toys, the North Korean despot is quickly becoming more of an erratic wild card than an ace in the hold for China.
Thérèse Margolis can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.