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Analysis: WikiLeaks reveals China, N. Korea tensions

By Jaime FlorCruz, CNN Beijing Bureau Chief
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Leak exposes China's N. Korea views
  • FlorCruz: WikiLeaks revelations not new news to Korea- and China-watchers
  • China's frustrations have come out in the open a few times
  • Revelations come amid tensions in the Korean peninsula
  • WikiLeaks document: Top Chinese official says their influence with N. Korea often overestimated

Jaime FlorCruz has lived and worked in China since 1971. He studied Chinese history at Peking University (1977-81) and served as TIME Magazine's Beijing correspondent and bureau chief (1982-2000).

Beijing, China (CNN) -- The leaked documents published by WikiLeaks reveal tensions festering between China and its close ally and neighbor, North Korea.

A diplomatic cable sent by the U.S. embassy in Beijing to the State Department in Washington revealed a Chinese vice minister of foreign affairs privately complaining about North Korea's behavior -- that it was behaving like a "spoiled child" in order to get the attention of an "adult," referring to the United States.

The Chinese diplomat said North Korea was most interested in talking with the United States directly. The context of that conversation was April 2009, when North Korea set off a three-stage rocket over Japan into the Pacific. Referring to their North Korean allies, the Chinese vice minister was quoted as saying: "We may not like them, but they are our neighbors."

This is an interesting revelation but it is hardly new information, at least not among Korea- and China-watchers. We have heard of similar characterizations of the Chinese mindset in recent months from Western diplomats, describing Chinese frustrations with their North Korea allies. This document simply confirms that.

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  • North Korea
  • Diplomacy
  • South Korea

China's frustrations have come out in the open a few times. When North Korea conducted a nuclear test in 2009, China broke ranks with North Korea and voted in the U.N. Security Council in favor of imposing sanctions on its North Korean allies. In the past, China, which wields a veto vote as a permanent member of the Security Council, would have simply abstained and let the resolution pass.

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With these revelations, Chinese officials probably may now find it awkward in their dealings with North Korea. But these revelations may not be new or shocking to the North Koreans.

Presumably, the Chinese have privately expressed their frustrations to the North Koreans. At the same time, the Chinese may not mind that the rest of the world knows that they are not blind to North Korea's behavior and are in fact just as frustrated as many other parties seeking to resolve the Korean crisis.

These revelations come at a time when there is tension in the Korean peninsula: One week ago, North Korea shelled a South Korea island with artillery fire, killing four people, including two civilians. Both sides are threatening military action, and China has been under pressure to use its leverage on North Korea and change its behavior.

China has refrained from singling out or condemning North Korea in public. Instead, Beijing has called for an "emergency" meeting in December of heads of delegations of the six-party talks with North Korea over that country's nuclear aspirations. But in one of the leaked documents, an unidentified senior Chinese official was quoted as saying that China's influence with the North Koreans was frequently overestimated.

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