Academic journal article North Korean Review

China's Policy toward North Korea under the XI Jinping Leadership

Academic journal article North Korean Review

China's Policy toward North Korea under the XI Jinping Leadership

Article excerpt

Introduction

With its geographic proximity, historical and cultural ties, and ideological affinity, the Democratic People's Republic of Korea (DPRK) has occupied an important place in the conduct of China's foreign policy. Following the Chinese intervention in the Korean War (1950-1953), which saved the DPRK from its demise, China signed a treaty of friendship and alliance with North Korea in 1961, which is still in effect today. As North Korea's economy deteriorated as a result of the so-called military first policy of the Kim Jong-Il regime from the latter part of the 1990s, China provided increasingly larger amounts of economic aid to its impoverished ally, while shielding it diplomatically and politically from the sanctions imposed by the UN Security Council for Pyongyang's violations of international agreements on the denuclearization of North Korea. China is estimated to provide over 90 percent of North Korea's energy imports, 80 percent of its consumer goods and 45 percent of its food.1

Under the Hu Jintao government (2002-2012), China's Korea policy revolved around three basic concerns: prevention of the collapse of the North Korean regime, preservation of peace and stability on the Korean Peninsula, and denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula. First, China did not want to see the collapse of the North Korean regime, as North Korea provided a valuable buffer zone between China and South Korea where over 28,000 U.S. troops remain stationed. If the North Korean regime collapsed, or were absorbed by South Korea, China would have to face a unified Korea controlled by the capitalist South and allied with the United States. Such a contingency would mean not only the loss of a valuable buffer zone but also a considerable burden on China's national defense, for as many as one-fifth (or 400,000) of China's People's Liberation Army (PLA) may need to be deployed along the Sino-Korean border to ensure China's national security.2 Second, China desired to prevent the outbreak of another war in Korea, for that could embroil China in an unwanted war because of its alliance with North Korea. In order for China to continue its economic development and "peaceful rise," it needed a peaceful international environment in East Asia, especially on the Korean Peninsula. Third, China also became concerned about North Korea's nuclear weapons program, for the acquisition of nuclear capabilities by North Korea would trigger a nuclear arms race in Northeast Asia, as Japan, South Korea and Taiwan would likely be compelled to counter the North's move by developing their own nuclear weapons programs. Such a development would not be conducive to the maintenance of China's special status as the sole legitimate nuclear power in the region. As a result, China became involved in the politics of denuclearization of North Korea through the Six-Party Talks in and after 2003.

Throughout the Kim Jong-Il's rule in North Korea (1994-2011), China's priority was the survival of the North Korean regime (or preventing its collapse). Such a priority did not change immediately after Jong-Il's death, for China's overriding concern was the preservation of North Korea through the successful consolidation of power by Kim Jong-Un. As a result, the Hu Jintao leadership decided to help Jong- Un's consolidation of power by endorsing the legitimacy of the new regime from the very beginning. At the same time, China also wanted a more cooperative new North Korean regime which would help stabilize the situation on the Korean Peninsula. North Korea under Kim Jong-Il had been a political liability and economic burden to China, as that regime defied the international community by perpetrating numerous provocations and crises. Pyongyang carried out missile and nuclear weapons tests in 2006 and 2009 in violation of international agreements. Furthermore, Pyongyang sank a South Korean warship, Cheonan, in March 2010 and shelled South Korea's Yeonpyeong Island, killing over 50 soldiers and civilians, in November of the same year. …

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