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Coyner's Comment
Antagonism between N. Korea and China?
Special Contribution
By Tom Coyner
Kim Il-Sung Attends 10th Anniversary of PRC Foundation — This file photo shows that the late North Korean leader Kim Il-Sung (: 1912-1994) stands side by side with the late Chinese Prime Minister Zhou En Lai (:1898-1976) at the ceremony of the 10th anniversary of the foundation of Peoples Republic of China (PRC) in Beijing, China, in October of 1959.

Contrary to many Western observers assumptions, there has always been, and remains to this day, an antagonism between North Korea and China that goes way back before the founding of the DPRK. Even with China saving the DPRK from destruction during the Korean War, the Chinese contribution has been systematically down played, since history doesnt play well within Pyongyangs narrative. In fact, much to the chagrin of visiting Chinese Korean War veterans, the Korean War museum in Pyongyang delegates the entirety of Chinas participation to a small side room.

The only real, ongoing affection is among the groups appears to be in cross-border commerce, be it smuggling at the low levels or Chinese state-owned enterprises working with DPRK entities for raw material extraction/exports. But getting back to the below, there is little love to be lost between the countries, so the below report is entirely credible if not verifiable, as so often is the case with the news coming out of the DPRK.

This underscores one of my long-term talking points about the wests feckless foreign policy regarding the DPRK. Politicians and diplomats feel they must be seen doing something when in fact their efforts may be argued to either be, at best, delaying programs/policies of the punished; or furthering antagonisms, more likely, between the sanctioned nation and the rest of the world. In these insular dictatorships, real change can come only from within - and almost all such reform happens in spite of outside pressures.

Sanctions only galvanize the population into supporting their detested leaders on behalf of the nation against a hostile world. Meanwhile, in the case of the DPRK, the shared border remains porous thanks to endemic corruption on both sides of the Yalu River.

Given how effective the Cuban embargo has been for the half century, I hope that bit of outdated nonsense will be terminated in the near future, so real change may eventually take place there. We may draw some lessons from that fiasco, closer to home.

South Africa was a singular exception. At the same time, as much as the sanctions may have helped, I wonder if the outcome would have been really different. Yes, outside pressure shamed the white minority, but at best the sanctions may have helped the whites to justify accepting the inevitable. In other words, the inevitable would have happened one way or the other, regardless. It was Mandala more than Tutu that made South Africa what it is today.

Redirecting our attention back to North Korea, I am pessimistic about the efficacy of outside sanctions and pressures - all grandstanding notwithstanding. Rather, actual change will take only place from pressures coming from within. If there is any opportunity to effect change from within, the outside would should vigorously explore all ways and opportunities to allow alien information and perspectives to seep into the world's most isolated nation.

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The above writer, Tom Coyner, is the president of Soft Landing Korea (, a consulting firm that specializes in business development largely via sales training & consulting. He is also a veteran writer and author of various books. He has been living in Korea and Japan for 25 years working for global companies.






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