China and North Korea: From Comrades-In-Arms to Allies at Arm's Length

China and North Korea: From Comrades-In-Arms to Allies at Arm's Length

China and North Korea: From Comrades-In-Arms to Allies at Arm's Length

China and North Korea: From Comrades-In-Arms to Allies at Arm's Length

Excerpt

The relationship between China and North Korea surely ranks as one of world's strangest. While on the surface, it might not seem surprising to have a formal military alliance between two communist neighbors that has endured more than 4 decades. After all, their armed forces fought shoulder-to-shoulder in the Korean War 50 years ago. However, Beijing's ties to Pyongyang have weakened considerably over time, and China now has much better and stronger relations with the free market democracy of South Korea than it does with the totalitarian, centrally planned economy of North Korea. In many ways Pyongyang has become a Cold War relic, strategic liability, and monumental headache for Beijing. Nevertheless, the China-North Korea alliance remains formally in effect, and Beijing continues to provide vital supplies of food and fuel to the brutal and repressive Pyongyang regime.

Since the ongoing nuclear crisis on the Korean Peninsula, which emerged in October 2002, the United States and other countries have pinned high hopes on Chinese efforts to moderate and reason with North Korea. Beijing's initiative to bring Pyongyang to the table in the so-called Six-Party Talks and host them seems to substantiate these hopes. Yet, as Dr. Andrew Scobell points out in this monograph, it would be unrealistic to raise one's expectations over what China might accomplish vis-à-vis North Korea. Beijing plays a useful and important role on the Korean Peninsula, but in the final analysis, Scobell argues that there are significant limitations on China's influence both in terms of what actions Beijing would be prepared to take and what impact this pressure can have. If this analysis is correct, then North Korea is unlikely to mend its ways anytime soon. The Strategic Studies Institute is pleased to offer a current analysis of this long-term relationship and its effect on the United States and the region.

DOUGLAS C. LOVELACE, JR.
Director
Strategic Studies Institute . . .

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