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Digital Subscriptions > Prospect Magazine > June 2017 > How do you solve a problem like Korea?

How do you solve a problem like Korea?

The regime in Pyongyang is the neighbour from hell for South Korea, China and Japan. But its intransigence and nuclear missile ambitions are part of a rational strategy for survival

In February 2016, it seemed that China and the United States had reached the end of their tether with North Korea. The Chinese foreign minister Wang Yi agreed with the US Secretary of State John Kerry on a new UN resolution to tighten sanctions on Pyongyang. This was a reaction to two recent challenges: a nuclear test and a satellite launch. Since 90 per cent of North Korea’s trade is with China, which supplies everything from oil to internet and banking services, it has the greatest capacity to squeeze the regime and its support for sanctions is critical. In February this year, China announced a further measure: a ban on imports of North Korean coal, worth around $1bn a year.

So it might seem surprising that China’s trading figures for the first quarter of 2017, a time when tensions have rarely been higher, revealed that its trade with North Korea had increased sharply: exports rose by 54.5 per cent and imports up by 18.4 per cent, compared to the same quarter last year. Seasoned observers, however, kept their surprise in check. It has long been evident that China’s effective stance towards North Korea is not really the strategic patience favoured by former US president Barack Obama’s administration, but strategic ambivalence.

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In Prospect’s June issue: Geoffrey Wheatcroft, Martha Gill and Helen Pidd examine the election chances of the three main political parties. Wheatcroft explores the Tories’ remarkable ability to rise from the ashes and assert dominance, Gill questions why the Lib Dem revival isn’t quite getting off the ground and Pidd examines Labour’s prospects after poor performances in the recent council and mayoral elections. Also in this issue: Christine Ockrent asks if France’s new President Emmanuel Macron can charm the parts of France that didn’t initially vote for him, AC Grayling assesses whether the rise and rise of drone warfare warrants a new ethical code for conflict and Francine Stock explores whether Pixar can continue to captivate modern audiences.
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