OWLS HEAD, Maine — "Will no one rid me of this turbulent priest."
Henry II's frustrated plea to be rid of Thomas a Becket is surely mimicked these days with regard to Kim Jong Un and his whole turbulent regime. And not so much in Washington and Seoul — though surely in both capitals such deliverance is devoutly wished — as in Beijing where their unruly puppets in Pyongyang could, through miscalculation, set off an explosion that China has no interest in but for which it would certainly share much blame.
For half a century China has tolerated, and indeed supported, their North Korean ally's belligerent behavior, regarding them as a welcome buffer to the nearly 30,000 American soldiers stationed in South Korea for well over 50 years.
But a China that has long since emerged from the hardline days of Mao must now be increasingly worried that its poorly trained pet will bite the wrong leg once too often.
Western analysts continue to suggest that Chinese reluctance to reign in its irrational neighbor reflects Chinese fear that overt pressure, were it to lead to North Korea's collapse, would have two disastrous consequences: in the short run, millions of starving North Koreans would flee across the Chinese border bringing economic and political instability to China. And, longer term, as the peninsula is re-united under Seoul, American troops would end up stationed along China's border.