On relations between China and North Korea

China took a step against longtime ally North Korea by voting in favor of a U.N. Security Council resolution condemning Pyongyang’s long-range rocket launch in December. Here are some questions and answers concerning China’s relationship with North Korea, as summarized in an AP article:

WHY DOES CHINA SUPPORT NORTH KOREA? – Beijing fears a collapse of the North Korean regime could send a massive flow of desperate, starving refugees into northeastern China and lead to a pro-U.S. government setting up across its border. Chinese firms could lose their leading position in North Korea, while South Korean investment in China would be diverted to help rebuild the devastated North’s economy.

WHAT ABOUT NORTH KOREA’S MISSILES AND NUCLEAR PROGRAM? – China wants a stable, peaceful Northeast Asia and doesn’t want the North to provoke retaliation from the South, Japan or the United States. China calls for denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula, though Beijing’s leaders are seen as resigned to the North possessing some sort of atomic weapon.

WHAT APPROACH DOES BEIJING RECOMMEND? – China typically calls for dialogue instead of sanctions, and has hosted successive rounds of talks also involving the two Koreas, Japan, Russia, and the U.S. Pyongyang agreed at the six-nation talks to end its nuclear programs, but discussions broke down over how to verify that.

SO WHY DID CHINA VOTE FOR THE NEW U.N. RESOLUTION? – China wants to register its displeasure with Pyongyang’s missile launch and doesn’t wish to be seen as obstructing the U.N.’s work. At the same time, it has pushed for a watered-down response, agreeing to strengthen existing sanctions while opposing substantially new ones. Beijing also wants to appear cooperative with the second Obama administration.

HOW MUCH INFLUENCE DOES BEIJING HAVE WITH PYONGYANG? – Hard to say. Chinese scholars and officials say not as much as the outside world thinks, and that sanctions have little effect on Pyongyang. That’s despite China being the North’s most important political ally, as well as its biggest source of food and fuel aid to prevent total economic collapse. China’s overriding fear of the North becoming a failed state severely limits Beijing’s options.

WHAT’S THE HISTORY BETWEEN THESE TWO? – Chinese troops fought on behalf of the North Korean regime in the 1950-53 Korean War and relations between the communist neighbors were long described as being “as close as lips and teeth.”

In brief, Beijing is concerned that North Korea’s nuclear ambitions are destabilizing the region, but is willing to go only so far to punish its economically struggling neighbor.

2 thoughts on “On relations between China and North Korea

  1. Concerning China taking this step against its ally North Korea, this came about as a result of a deal between the United States and China. Even though the draft does not call for any new sanctions against Pyongyang, diplomats said China’s support for the resolution represented a significant diplomatic blow to Pyongyang.

    The draft, which was sent to the 15 council members, calls for sanctioning a number of additional North Korean entities, including Pyongyang’s space agency, diplomats said on condition of anonymity.

    The United States had wanted to punish North Korea with a UN Security Council resolution that imposed new sanctions against Pyongyang, but Beijing rejected that option. The US-Chinese deal was that Washington would forgo the idea of immediate new sanctions, while Beijing would accept the idea of a resolution instead of a statement.

  2. North Korea has responded to new Security Council sanctions with a declaration that it plans a third nuclear test and more missile launches. Politically, it has made unambiguous that its “aim” is its enemy, the United States.

    In this rapid reaction to U.N. sanctions, the young government of Kim Jong Un underscores what Security Council members have long known anticipated from the DPRK. Their end-game is to create a vibrant, integrated missile and nuclear weapons program that will result – as in the cases of Pakistan and India – in their being recognized as a new nuclear nation by fait accompli.

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