China has mostly enjoyed good neighborly relations with North Korea in the past.
However, recent murders allegedly committed by North Koreans inside China’s border have caused a lot of damage to the long-standing alliance between the countries.
Around 20 Chinese villagers have been murdered by North Koreans in recent years. Most recently, a soldier believed to a defector killed four Chinese citizens in December during a robbery after he crossed the border in search of food into China’s northeastern city of Helong.
He was later captured by Chinese security forces.
Following the incident, Beijing lodged a formal complaint with Pyongyang. Chinese foreign ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying stated in a press briefing that the authorities “will handle the case in line with relevant laws.”
China has always been North Korea's only important ally, being its biggest trading partner and main source of food, arms, and energy. But the relations have grown strained since February 2013 when Pyongyang conducted its third nuclear test, despite threats of economic sanctions from the United Nations.
As if it wasn’t already difficult for China to defend its support of its reclusive neighbor, the cold-blooded murder of its citizens will most likely weaken its political ties with North Korea.
The first reports of food crisis in North Korean military came out in 2011. The situation has deteriorated under Kim Jong Un’s dictatorship.
Not only are the citizens starving on the streets of cities and villages, there are rumors that even the regional military bases have nothing to eat. As a result, soldiers are either defecting or committing crimes to fulfill their needs.
“Bribes were one of the key sources of income for these guards to survive, but after Kim Jong Un came to power and tightened controls, it became difficult for them to take bribes, thus the criminal deviations,” Kang Dong Wan, a professor of international relations at Busan’s Dong-a University in South Korea, was quoted as saying by Bloomberg.
“Military units in fringe areas or with less influence also get less food,” he added. “This will get worse. It is estimated about 2 million North Koreans are still unable to feed themselves properly even though the days of them starving to death are over.”
The United Nations Children's Fund prepared a report on DPRK’s food crisis in April 2013. It stated "around 6 million people in Korea don’t have enough to eat, and nearly a million of them are children under 5." According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, North Korea is “the most persistently food-insecure” Asian country after Afghanistan.