Chinese-North Korean relations and implications for China’s future

21 Apr

China has grown from a tyrannical state with a violent dictator that feared the west, to a far friendlier country with an economy reliant on the West and a government which appears to be ever steadily moving towards civil liberalisation, and possibly future democracy.

On the other hand, North Korea remains the world’s most tyrannical state, with three consecutive dictators ruling, a dead Kim IL Sung technically head of state, and one of the largest starving populations that live in total poverty.

How is China’s relationship with North Korea going to shape the future for global politics and China’s relationship with the West?

China’s relationship with the West is imperative to its rise as a global power and its continuing economy growth. Kevin Rudd, former Australian Prime Minister, has stated that China’s relationship with an ever-aggressive North Korea threatens its relationship with the rest of the world,  “The most immediate and significant threat to a new form of strategic co-operation between Beijing and Washington, and between Beijing and the rest of the region, lies in the North Korean nuclear program.” Furthermore, Kevin Rudd argued that North Korea’s threat of nuclear weapons has hastened co-operation between Asian countries in their efforts to build regional anti-ballistic missile defences, which could also work against China; “North Korea’s nuclear posture is of itself causing the US and its allies in the region to enhance their co-operation on ballistic missile defence in order to counter the North Korean threat.” “Such ballistic missile defence co-operation also of course has wider implications for China’s national and security interests beyond the Korean Peninsula.”

Though, China recently has been critical of North Korea, whilst holding talks between Chinese officials and US Secretary of State, John Kerry. According to Kerry, both sides have advocated the “denuclearisation” of the continent.  Yang Jiechi has also stated that “China is firmly committed to upholding peace and stability and advancing the denuclearisation process on the Korean peninsula,” showing that although China is North Korea only remaining ally and major trading partner, China is losing confidence in North Korea and has shifted support towards the West, though they will be unlikely to cut vital trade to North Korea out of fear that they will become increasingly desperate.

Philip Bowring, in the South China Morning Post, has an alternate view on China’s relationship with North Korea. He argues that recent North Korean rhetoric is “just more of the same tactics it has used for two decades”, and that the US has no moral superiority over China because of the US’ continual support of Israel and their nuclear program.   However, Bowring does concede that China’s relationship with North Korea will likely hurt its relationship with other Asian-Pacific countries. Therefore China, who has recently contested the Diaoyu Islands, will most likely decrease the scale of their military build-up and their diplomatic pressure on the surrounding territories, including the Diaoyu Islands and Taiwan.

It appears that China’s “lips and teeth” relationship with North Korea may not as contentious as previously thought as the US relies heavily on Chinese trade in their economy and have no great moral superiority in this matter, though it may hinder China’s present aspirations for greater control within the Asian-Pacific region. Though, the future of the relationship is contended; some say that North Korea and China are moving closer and that their relationship is an important part of their history and shared current interests in the face of possible US hegemony. However I believe that recent Chinese-US cooperation and criticism of North Korea has shown that China’s mutual reliance on the West is more important than supporting an historic ally; China’s future may indeed be one of peace, as the greater the North Korean threat, the lesser the Chinese threat.




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