When Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton warned Thursday that a succession battle in North Korea could complicate nuclear negotiations with that country’s government, she broke an informal taboo. Diplomats do not talk publicly about what comes after Kim Jong-il, the convalescing dictator who turned his isolated country into a nuclear rogue state.
Mrs. Clinton, on her first trip as secretary of state, broached the topic with reporters on her plane, and then answered two questions.
“If there is a succession, even if it’s a peaceful succession,” she said, “that creates more uncertainty, and it may also encourage behaviors that are even more provocative, as a way to consolidate power within the society.”
The question is whether Mrs. Clinton made a beginner’s error that could upset other
players in the negotiations, like China. Or whether she showed refreshing candor — the kind of approach that could shake loose what has been a diplomatic quagmire for the last eight years.
The answer to that last paragraph, of course, is "neither." In fact, the cadres pretty much said it all with their subsequent silence: "neither China nor North Korea itself issued any official reaction to her comment."
There has already been plenty of scuttlebutt about who would succeed Kim Jong-il as the Chinese Communist Party's Korean viceroy (One Free Korea is the source to which I turn). In the final analysis, however, the name of the new "leader" is irrelevant. What matters is that when the time comes, the CCP will be the ones who put or keep him there.
The cadres may be in uncharted and threatening territory regarding the global economy and the anti-Communist resurgence in India, but when it comes to manipulating Washington through Pyongyang, they're experts. Two successive Administrations over the last fifteen years have been worked over by Beijing, and a third one (the current Administration) is ripe for the same.
That was all but telegraphed by what Clinton said later:
Mrs. Clinton said she was interested in exploring whether neighbors like China could exert more influence on North Korea. “North Korea is on China’s border, and I want to understand better what the Chinese believe is doable,” she said.
So, not only does the CCP keep its role as gatekeeper for its Korean colony, it now has the American Administration seeking their advice on what is "doable."
Given that, does it really matter who the CCP decides will play the role of "leader" of North Korea? Of course not. What matters is that the Communist regime will continue to be able to use its Korean colony as a lever to pry loose concessions from the United States.
So, whatever Secretary Clinton intended, she revealed that her Administration's policy towards the CCP will be no better than that of her husband or that of Bush the Younger. In fact, as impossible as it may have seemed a month ago, this Administration's policy toward the CCP could even be worse.