The Guardian reviews author Paul French´ extensively researched book North Korea: State of Paranoia: A Modern History. French deals with many subjects, including the country´s relationship with China.
French points out that North Korea’s leadership is nobody’s puppet. During the Sino-Soviet split following Stalin’s death, Kim Il-sung, the country’s long-serving leader, first tried to keep in with both sides but then broke both with Khrushchev’s revisionism and Mao’s Cultural Revolution. Mao’s Little Red Bookwas blocked from circulation.
Forty years later, China still protects North Korea diplomatically from outside pressure, but there is no ideological affinity between Pyongyang’s command economy and China’s increasingly capitalist one. Russian relations with Pyongyang cooled severely when Soviet communism collapsed and Boris Yeltsin cut cheap fuel supplies and other subsidies, dealing a sudden and massive blow to the North Korean economy.French provides a comprehensive account of the controversies surrounding North Korea’s nuclear programme. A period of genuine promise emerged in 1994 when the US and North Korea reached an Agreed Framework thanks to the diplomacy of former President Jimmy Carter whom Bill Clinton had appointed as a special envoy. Kim Il-sung was to halt his nuclear programme in return for US support in providing “proliferation-resistant” light-water reactors to develop the country’s civilian energy production. It was a good compromise but South Korea and Japan were to shoulder most of the cost and these two countries started to raise objections. When George W Bush came to power and cited North Korea in his “axis of evil” speech in 2002, the deal fizzled. In spite of sporadic negotiations between Pyongyang and Washington to find a new agreement, with China, Japan, Russia and South Korea also involved at the table, there has been no breakthrough for the last dozen years. None is expected.