North Korea Finds a Lifeline in China

The Dear Leader may be as unwell as he looks, and famine may be a constant worry, but North Koreans can still count on one thing: China. According to China Customs Statistics, trade between the two grew more than 16 percent in the first half of this year. And in the past year, Chinese firms have acquired rights to the North Korean ports of Chongjin and Rajin. The latter will give China its first direct access to the Sea of Japan since the 19th century, providing companies in Manchuria an ideal route to Japan, South China, and Russia.

Pyongyang is open for business for a reason. The ailing Kim Jong-il seems to be preparing for a transfer of power to a successor—possibly his youngest son, Kim Jong-un, who reportedly accompanied the elder Kim on a surprise visit to China last week. With the regime looking like it's battening down for tempestuous times among its senior ranks, anything that helps ensure stability is of the utmost value. For now, Beijing is the most reliable friend Pyongyang has, and neither side is likely to do anything to jeopardize that relationship.