African Angles – North Korea’s Cold War hang-up

By Billie Adwoa McTernan

Posted on May 3, 2013 14:40

Like Africa, the Korean peninsula was divided between communism and the West. Now Chinese economic backing is the new trump card.

The history of negotiations over the nuclear issue in North Korea has been drawn out for a very long time.

The rhetoric has escalated, but the substance of the issue remains.

Is it not ironic that the powerful in the world selectively choose which countries to subject to such threats while others known to be doing the same are left free to pursue their agenda?

The Cold War divided Africa into pro-West and pro-Soviet Union supporters, and the North and South Korea division was a product of the Cold War in 1945.

The Koreas are seen to be much more strategic [than Africa] given the neighbourhood, including the People’s Republic of China as well as Russia.

In the case of Africa, Chinese interests in resources have helped Africa to regain some strategic interest for Europe and America.

It is possible then that there could be proxy wars in Africa, but it also depends on Africa’s leadership and the leaders’ ability to mobilise the population for internally generative economic development.

China has the upper hand now in Africa given its pursuit of economic relations with the continent without an overbearing ideological litmus test.

Africans have learned not to be drawn into these polarising projects.

There will be no Korea-like cases in Africa, at least not yet.

Although the Chinese government is telling the North Koreans to slow down on the nuclear rhetoric, it will not fundamentally change the position of the People’s Republic of China.

North Korea is the so-called backyard of China, and the latter will want to maintain that strategic hold in the Korean Peninsula for the time being, unless President Kim Jong-un does something exceptionally silly.

If China is alienated by North Korea and withdraws from its position, both economically and otherwise, then North Korea will be left high and dry.

The resources that North Korea has are relatively small compared to China’s ability to access global resources in Africa and Latin America, for example.

It is reasonable to assume that China is more concerned about growing its economy.

The recent conversations between China’s President Xi Jinping and Russia’s President Vladimir Putin in Moscow suggest that China is looking for political alliances all over the world.

The North Koreans have a fleeting opportunity to reform their country on their own terms, but I’m afraid that hubris is the obstacle●

Abdi Ismail Samatar is Professor of geography, university of Minnesota and president of the African Studies Association.

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