Visits to Beijing in the past week by top officials from North Korea, Myanmar, and Iran are highlighting China's ties with nations widely criticized for human rights abuses and threatening behavior.
Analysis: Kim visit highlights China’s ties to shunned nations [AP, 25 May 2011]
Many think these ties tarnish Beijing’s self-image as a responsible rising power. But China views them as a rejection of Western style democracy, as well as an opportunity to reap economic benefits of trade with markets avoided by the West.
“It helps mobilize their legitimacy argument that the Western approach is not the only one,” said Michael Davis, a law professor and Chinese politics expert at Chinese University of Hong Kong. It would also be in China’s best interest to avoid the unrest which could blow up at its borders if any of the regimes should fail.
On 25 May 2011, China’s ambassador to Myanmar voiced a view on Myanmar’s behalf that “the new civilian government wants greater engagement economically and diplomatically with the outside world.” China is Myanmar's most important diplomatic ally. The two have strong trade links with Chinese companies having invested billions of dollars into the energy and commodities sectors.
Report: China says Myanmar wants greater engagement with outside world [Reuters, 25 May 2011]
North Korean views exchanges with China as increasingly important with the deterioration of their relationships with the rest of the world. Pyongyang has also violated nuclear agreements and they are struggling to feed their population according to AP.
Iran refuses to stop uranium enrichment, which has huge nuclear potential. During the meeting with Chinese foreign minister, Yang Jiechi, Iranian Foreign Minister Ali Akbar Salehi invited China to send experts to assess its nuclear facilities in a new attempt to convince the world their atomic activities should not warrant sanctions
Report: China hopes Iran to start new round of nuclear talks with G5+1 [Xinhua, 24 May 2011]
But while these states may seem to have warm relations, they might not share deep trust.
“North Korea and Myanmar may resent their dependence on China and often seem to want to go their own way, as shown in their unwillingness so far to undertake the economic reforms China is pitching,” said Ian Storey of the Singapore-based Institute of Southeast Asian Studies, "China's influence over these countries tends to be greatly exaggerated.”