Nobody was sure how it’d gotten to that point. Earlier they were having a Six-Party Talk meeting about North Korea’s nuclear program. After that, they were sitting down together for a fancy delegation dinner. Then out of nowhere North Korea erupts (quietly, for a change), starting an argument with China that had everyone feeling painfully uncomfortable.
It started with an innocuous comment from South Korea about the chilly, but bearable, weather in Seoul, to which China agreed. To which North Korea muttered quietly, “You would be familiar with the weather in Seoul. You travel there so often.”
There were more little mutterings from him, and he exhibited incredible skillfulness at turning any little comment into a reason to be salty. Each time, China would insist–or plea, depending on how you look at it–that they “not do this here” and try to change the subject. Of course, North Korea never liked being ignored.
“Oh, are my concerns inconvenient? Is that because I’m inconvenient?”
“North Korea, please, you’re embarrassing yourself,” China said tensely, trying to distract himself from the impending emotional disaster by poking at his dinner.
South Korea would have agreed with China. She was so stricken by second-hand embarrassment that she hid her face in her hands and tried to dream that she was somewhere far, far away. Her brother wasn’t about to make the situation any better.
“Am I embarrassing myself, or am I embarrassing you?”
“Both, in fact,” said China.
America and Russia were watching with the anticipation one might have when watching some drama-charged talk show where the guests go at it for an hour. Japan was staring directly down at her food, chewing slowly and quietly and not daring to look up.
North Korea cried, “I’m always such an embarrassment! The ‘mentally unstable’ ‘rogue state’ who likes to wave around missiles and overreact to any little provocation! It must be so difficult for you to continue supporting such a joke of a country.”
China’s fork hit his plate with a startling klink and finally he turned to engage the Korean, who had already abandoned his food long ago to face the regional power head-on.
“Do not put words in my mouth. You know that I respect you–”
“Respect me! You treat me like one of your poor provinces!” At this accusation, China’s jaw went slack. “Is that all I am to you? Something you can use? Just a buffer zone? A burden?”
Try as he might, China couldn’t stop the anger from showing in the color of his face. “Do you want honesty, North Korea? I don’t think you’re even trying in this relationship.”
“I’m not trying?”
“Do you remember the time I told you not to pursue nuclear proliferation? But you selfishly did so anyway?”
“That happened many times, you’ll have to be more specif–”
North Korea’s eyes narrowed dangerously (don’t delegitimize his nuclear program–just don’t). “Think about it from my point of view and try listening to me for once, China. You have a nice little security net, and money, and influence, but I’m in a bad position. I’m constantly on the brink of war–”
“You are not constantly on the brink of war.”
“–it’s terrifying! All I want is to protect myself–especially since I can’t count on you to help me!”
China smiled from pure frustration. “You think I’m not doing enough? I have always sacrificed more for us than you have, and who benefits most from this partnership? You do. I often suffer for trying to help you and protect you. Do you realize that your refusal to cooperate internationally is hurting my honor?”
“There it is, then. I’m just a liability.”
By that point, the other four had quietly slipped out–probably to get pizza somewhere safer and less dramatic.
China, on the other hand, was sitting at the bottom of a hole and suppressing the desire to pop a few painkillers for his growing headache. “That’s not what I’m saying. Can’t you see that I’ve always tried to give you the best, North Korea? I want you to be a happy, wealthy, independent member of the international community. I have painstakingly tried to encourage top-down economic reforms but you–you’re so damn stubborn that you refuse to change!”
“You powerful, privileged countries always think you know what’s best for everyone else.”
“I know because I’ve lived it! I advise you from experience! It’s ridiculous to think–”
“So now I’m ridiculous?”
There was a heavy pause in their argument, as if the conversation was taking a moment to suck in air before sighing. But then China’s expression softened. Rather than bite back, he whispered urgently, “Camera.”
North Korea’s brow furrowed. “What?”
China motioned with his eyes to the Press, who, after hearing a fight unleash, had re-entered the scene with the most convenient timing.
Within seconds, the room lit up.
The next morning a piece on the Six-Party Talk was published under the headline: “Trouble in Paradise? Things heat up between the PRC and DPRK–and not in a good way!”
In a presentation on Sino-North Korea relations, Victor Cha told a story about how during Six-Party Talks, the North Koreans and Chinese would go out of their way to show the others how “special” the relationship between their countries was. (Is that not the cutest thing?)
On another note, I’m not entirely convinced that North Korea and China hate each other as was argued in the video. There’s a very real difference between hating particular things about a person and altogether hating the person. Have you ever been in a relationship where you might resent someone’s behavior or actions but at the same time you still love them? Hence, I feel that the “married couple” imagery is pretty appropriate within this context.