Academic journal article North Korean Review

China's Nuclear- Armed Proxy-North Korea: Hostile Surrogacies and Rational Security Adjustments

Academic journal article North Korean Review

China's Nuclear- Armed Proxy-North Korea: Hostile Surrogacies and Rational Security Adjustments

Article excerpt


For more than twenty years diplomats have failed to reverse nuclear proliferation in North Korea. It is unrealistic to expect renewed diplomacy-Six-Party Talks- will convince the Kim regime to agree to relinquish what it perceives is its primary means of security and international respect. If history is our guide, Pyongyang may agree to resume talks and temporarily accede to non-onerous concessions in order to calm concerns while it quietly continues to miniaturize a nuclear warhead to attach to an intercontinental ballistic missile. It seems the only reason the Kim regime might consider changing course is if China threatened the drastic reduction or elimination of economic support. However, it is unlikely China would abandon North Korea unless it became clear this alliance posed a security threat.

There are at least two ways this could occur: through international pressure or as the result of concerns over rational security adjustments. First, the international community could sanction China as an accomplice for underwriting the existence of a regime whose illegal missile exports and technology transfers destabilize the Middle East, and whose illicit nuclear missile program threatens its East Asian neighbors and the United States. Second, as this nuclear threat grows more acute, public opinion or political leadership may compel Seoul and Tokyo to seek their own nuclear deterrent. Although the U.S. opposes nuclear proliferation in principle, it may be obliged to acquiesce.

China's continued support for North Korea is not a benign legacy of the Cold War. Evidence suggests it is part of a larger geopolitical strategy. Analysts are quick to point out the apparent acrimony between Beijing and Pyongyang after the 2013 nuclear test, but neglect to identify the surrogate role-a substitute who acts in place of another-North Korea plays in China's foreign policy. Analysts would be well advised to stop gleaning intentions from scripted narratives and symbolic gestures, and instead, follow the money-over $1 billion in-kind aid per annum. Leaders of surrogate states need not like their overseers in order to do as expected when money, or its equivalent, is involved, and especially if these activities are consistent with their own geopolitical designs. The level of animus or friendship between Beijing and the Kim regime is immaterial to the economic based proxy relationship, which surely would dissolve if North Korea's missile exports and technology transfers to the Middle East were unacceptable to China's larger strategic objectives. Indeed, Beijing would surely withhold support if Pyongyang started selling missile technology to Xinjiang rebels or the Dali Lama.

However, North Korea's violations of United Nations Security Council Resolutions 1718 (2006), 1874 (2009) and 2094 (2013) on arms control, its January 2016 nuclear test, and its growing nuclear missile threat are changing the geopolitical risks of the alliance. I contend that Beijing may rescind support for the Kim regime if the exposition of this hostile surrogacy brought international opprobrium or if it seemed likely Japan and South Korea might obtain their own nuclear deterrent, thus endangering China's security.

This paper is divided into two parts with several subsections. In part one I argue that North Korea is a proxy for China's geopolitical objectives. I support this assertion with evidence uncovering China's overt and covert foreign policy agenda and its proxy-use of North Korea to destabilize the Middle East. If the details of this connection were widely known, the international community might denounce Beijing's blatant use of a hostile surrogacy. And if sanctions were extended to include China it might be less willing to underwrite the existence of North Korea.

In part two, I argue that the Kim regime's nuclear program is immune to diplomatic pressure because it believes its survival depends on retaining a nuclear threat. …

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