With the news today of North Korean leader Kim Jong Il's death, many are looking to China and wondering how it will react. Officially China is North Korea's closest ally ("as close as lips and teeth" was how The Chairman used to describe the relationship), but unofficially it's the unpredictable neighbor who's insane enough to blow up the neighborhood.
Every Chinese person — from taxi drivers to close friends — that I have talked to about North Korea has said essentially the same thing to me: "North Korea? They're crazy….just like we were during the Cultural Revolution."
I've never been entirely sure how to respond to that statement.
When North Korea was acting up last summer, shelling a South Korean island, I asked my taxi-driver friend about it:
Me: China is the only country in the world that has any leverage. Why don't your leaders do something about this guy?
He: Because every time Chairman Kim comes to town he tells our leaders that at least one of his missles is pointed at Beijing and if they don't support them, he'll fire it.
It was the first analysis of China's dealings with North Korea I'd ever heard that truly made sense.