Sino-North Korean Relations

Política. Relaciones entre estados. Países. Administración y desarrollo económico. Asia del Este

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  • Idioma: inglés
  • País: México México
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Allies, Enemies, and Everything in Between: Sino-North Korean Relations

The relations between China and North Korea have never been easy. Yet, that does not tell us much because, after all, the relations of the two countries have never been easy with anyone. For many years, both China and North Korea have been trying to find their own place in the international system. On one hand, China, with a booming economy and a population that surpasses a billion, can literality decide the future mankind. Still, it is also a country with a long history of both internal and external conflict that has been struggling to consolidate as one of the major super powers. On the other hand, we have one of the poorest and backwarded countries in the world whose peculiar and defying behavior has landed it in the infamous group of “rogue states”. In the last ten years, North Korea has caught the imagination of the entire international community with its nuclear ambitions and the unconventional behavior of its leader Kim Jong Il.

Still, China and North Korea seem to have a lot in common. First of all, they share a border. North Korea borders Manchuria which is one of the most important economic zones of China. Second, they fought together in a war. Finally, they have similar ideologies. Yet, the asymmetrical quality of their relationship poses doubts about the nature of the Sino-North Korean relations. Some of the most important questions that emerge from the nature of Sino-North Korean relations are: Is North Korea valuable ally for China? Is China's commitment to support the North Korean regime a product of strategy and friendship or not having other option? What role do Sino-North Korea relations play in the ability of China to develop a consistent foreign policy that allows it to preserve a communist ideology while becoming a major force in the international system? In order to answer these questions, it is essential to take a look at the history of these two countries from the Korean War to the present time.

It would be impossible to say anything about the nature of the Sino-North Korean relations without taking about the Korean War, the Cold War, the United States, Russia, communist ideology, Mao Zedong, international security, and nuclear weapons. Thus the purpose of this analysis is to determine the impact that all these variables had on the making of the Chinese foreign policy towards North Korea. In order to do so, the first part of this paper will analyze the reasons why China got involved in the Korean War and the nature of its actions during the conflict. Then, the second part of the paper will deal with the relations between China and North Korea (NK) during the rest of the Cold War. The final part will explore the ways in which China has been trying to deal with North Korea in the post-Cold War world order. More than just a mere account of the facts and events that took place during this period of time, the intention of this analysis is to use those facts to see the how Chinese foreign relations evolved during and after the Cold War.

The main argument of this work is that China's foreign policy towards North Korea has been dictated by China's desire to foster its economic growth, enhance its status in the international system as a major power, and address its security concerns while maintaining a communist ideology. Chinese leaders are well aware that accomplishing these three tasks requires of a stable Korean peninsula and cooperative allies on the borders. Thus, Cold War or not, NK will remain a very important part of China's foreign relations. However, as China keeps moving towards a capitalist economy, the alliance with North Korea becomes more questionable.

The Korean War

One of the major challenges that Mao Zedong had to face after the victory of the Communist revolution in 1949 was to develop a foreign policy for the new Chinese communist state. The CCP wanted a fresh start for China's foreign relations and to restore the glory of China after decades of humiliation and defeat. Add to this, China's ideological compatibility with the Soviet Union suggested an imminent union between the two. Thus, Mao's foreign policy was constructed around two main principles “cleaning the house before entertaining the guests” and “ leaning to one side”. Additionally, Mao defined the nature of the international system in terms of the Marxists-Leninist theory of international class struggle and his idea of “contradictions”. According to this theory, life is based on contradictions. The only way to solve those contradictions is through struggle. Therefore, conflict is necessary part of progress. Mao applied this theory to determine who were the enemies and the allies of China based on the nature of the contradiction between China and a particular country.

This practice added a realist element to China's foreign policy. As Thomas Christensen has pointed out, Chinese leaders tend to think about the international system in terms of traditional, cold-war balance-of-power. This way of thinking about the international system led Mao to believe that the instability of the international system was caused by the “main contradiction” generated by the America-Soviet confrontation. Yet, he did not believe that a direct confrontation between the two superpowers was imminent. Mao accurately predicted the way the Cold War was going to unfold. He thought that the confrontation between the U.S. and the Soviet Union was going to take place in the intermediary zones between them. China, been part of that intermediary zone, was going to play a fundamental role in the outcome of the Cold War.

Still, the fact China saw itself as being in this intermediary zone, did not imply neutrality. China was clearly on the Soviet side since the beginning. The CCP leadership needed the support of the Soviet Union to pursue its economic and political goals and to defend China in the event of an armed conflict with Japan. Thus, China was part of the intermediary zone and the anti-imperialist Soviet camp at the same time. This meant that China's foreign was divided into two parts. On one hand, China had its own independent foreign policy agenda aimed at supporting national liberation movements in the intermediary zone and expanding the communist revolution in other countries. On the other hand, China had to play along with Soviet interest. This also meant that China's relationship with the Soviet Union though close, was never harmonious.

This duality and Mao's ideas about the nature of the international system especially towards the United States had a strong influence in the eventual involvement of China in the Korean War. Confident that the United States was not going to risk direct confrontation with the Soviet Union, China's foreign policy became more aggressive and defying towards the United States. This being so, the CCP leadership was encouraged to pursue the expansion of the Chinese revolution outside China more energetically. Thus, when Kim Il-sung approached Mao with his plans to unify Korea by military means--- and persuaded him that the United States was very unlikely to send troops---- he immediately offered to help. Both leaders envisioned a short and low key armed conflict. Certainly, both leaders completely failed to calculate the commitment of the U.S to the containment of communism and the importance of the Korean Peninsula in its security framework.

Contrary to what Mao and Kim expected, the Korean War quickly escalated into a major international conflict involving the United States, the UN, Soviet Union and China. After realizing that the U.S. was going to provide South Korea with military assistance including ground troops, Mao accelerated preparations for sending Chinese troops to North Korea. China was getting ready for the worse possible scenario. Yet, in order to avoid such scenario and after careful deliberation, Mao decided that measures had to be taken to assure a fast North Korean victory. Also, the Korean crisis offered an opportunity for Mao to implement his ideas about a China-lead World wide revolution. Thus, he ordered Chinese troops to enter the battlefield. This decision proved to be catastrophic for both Mao and China. After three years of conflict, China's combat loses were more than 360,000 and non-combat losses were more than 380,000. China's leadership was forced to accept the defeat.

As suggested above, China's desire for leading a world wide revolution along with its security concerns and Mao's ideas about the nature of the international system characterized its foreign policy towards North Korea during the Korean crisis. Also, China's involvement and handling of the Korean War set the tone for the type of international action that Communist China was going to be in the coming years. China saw itself as a revolutionary country that was not willing to go along with the principles and norms of the international system. In a sense, the Korean War helped China to developed the personality of its foreign policy. After the war, China's foreign policy had its own language, theory, goals, and values. Moreover, Mao's ability to manipulate China's foreign policy-making process was established. Mao proved to have total control over China's foreign policy. As a result, Mao's ideas and personality became an intrinsic part of China's foreign policy in the years to come.

The Cold War Period

After the war, NK remained a key element of the military plans of both the United States and the Soviet Union. However, it was China the one in better position to approach the North Korean regime. The Korean War proved to be a valuable learning experience for the new Communist Chinese and North Korean leadership. The limited support that the Soviet Union gave to Chinese and Korean troops during the Korean War was considered as a “betrayal” on the part of the Soviet Union. To the contrary, the active participation of the China in the war proved to the North Korean leadership that China was a trustworthy partner. As a result, the two countries developed a strong bond. Conversely, China re-evaluated its alliance with Moscow and put an end to the “lean to one side” strategy. Thus, the dualist nature of the Chinese foreign policy was replaced by the principle of “self reliance”. Now, China was no longer on the Soviet Camp. China belonged now to the intermediary zone exclusively.

China became actively involved in the reconstruction of NK after the war. China provided extensive economic aid to NK at the time when it was trying to develop its own economy. This situation reinforces the fact that the stabilization and preservation of North Korea has been one of the main interests of the PRC. The economic, social, and political exchanges between the two countries increased significantly in the post-war years. In 1958, the Pyongyang regime enthusiastically endorsed China's Great Leap Forward policies. The North Korean leaders saw the Chinese way of achieving the goals of communism as a promising solution to NK's economic problems. Thus, the North Korean regime started to model its economic policy after the Chinese example and emulate many of the principal features of the Chinese society.Still, North Korea meticulously tried to avoid provoking the Soviets by leaning to much to the Chinese side. Thus, the implementation of the Chinese policies was not directed by the Chinese leadership. This being so, the impact of China in the development of the post-war North Korean regime was relatively rather limited.

The separation between China and the Soviet Union in the following years resulted in a competition over North Korea. North Korea, though more sympathetic to the Chinese side, took advantage of the Sino-Soviet dispute to obtain economic support from both. Thus, in order to avoid reprisals from China or Russia, NK never made a commitment to either side. The posture of NK during the Cold War period was one of neutrality but with a slight tendency to lean to one side at different times

This “bias neutrality” was challenged by the desire of NK to gain some independence from both Peking and Moscow. Even tough the North Korean leaders continue to favor the Chinese alliance, the slowdown of Sino-North Korean relations started during the Chinese Cultural Revolution. In fact, during the Chinese Cultural Revolution, the relations between Peking and Pyongyang reached its lowest point. The inability of China to continue supporting NK economically during the Cultural Revolution forced NK to seek the help of the Soviet Union. This situation led to the rapid deterioration of the relations between NK and China. Yet, unlike The new pro-Soviet strategy pursed by NK did not men the exchange of one partnership for the other. This time, NK started to demonstrate a strong emphasis for political and economic independence from both Peking and Moscow. The North Korean leadership thought that that no communist party was more important than other. Thus, each party should be allowed to think and act independently. In light of this, NK adopted a more strict neutral position in order to keep receiving economic and military aid but maintaining political independence. However, due to its overwhelming economic problems, it was never capable of achieving total impendence from either side.

China's isolation during the cultural revolution deteriorated its relations with most countries including NK. The revival of the Sino-North Korean relations at the beginning of the seventies was initiated by their common fear of Japan becoming a military power again. Yet, the situation for NK was not very promising. NK seemed to be destined to live under the subordination of either one or both regimes. The Cold War period was a period of adjustment and experimentation for China and North Korea. Their relations, though never unfriendly, were far from being those of brothers who fought side by side during the Korean War. To the contrary, they always showed signs of wanting to draw a line between them in other in order to pursue their personal goals. Still, necessity and circumstances never let them to do so.

The Post-Cold War Years

The dissolve of the Soviet Union did not just re-shape the world, it also changed the way of looking and thinking about it. This is also true for China which as 1992 was looking to normalize its foreign relations with anyone who could help it to continue its economic development. This logically included the United States and even its eternal rival Japan. In that vein, China started to normalize relations with South Korea and North Korea. The recognition of two Koreas is a clear example of the way Chinese foreign policy is moving away from the Cold War years and adapting to the new world order. China's two-Koreas approach is the result of a combination of internal and external factors. China's post-Mao domestic reforms aimed mainly at integrating China to the global economy, position South Korea as a very important trade partner. NK, on the other hand, does not have much to contribute to the economic development of China. In fact, China's economic relations with NK are extremely asymmetrical. However, as mentioned above, China and NK have a special connection that seems to supersede immediate economic interests. This situation exposes the conflicting nature of China's post-cold war foreign policy towards NK.

The end of the Cold War brought major changes to China's external environment. China, like the rest of the world, had to readjust its security strategy to a world without the Soviet Union. If one thing has remained constant throughout the Sino-North Korea relations is the importance that the Korean Peninsula has to China's security concerns. In China's security plans, having a friendly buffer state is essential for increasing its security, Moreover, in the eyes of China's foreign policy makers, an uncooperative neighbor translates into an area that your enemies can use to attack you. This being so, China wants to have friendly relations with the two Koreas. Yet, China's interests regarding the two Koreas are very different. On one hand, China shares ideas about trade and economic integration with South Korea. On the other hand, China and NK concur about how matters should be handled in the peninsula. For example, both consider that the presence of U.S. military in South Korea is unnecessary and threat to the stability of the region. Thus, China has continued to provide assistance and assurance the North Korean regime hoping that this will help NK to move towards an economic reform that allows the survival of its communist regime. This being so, the main external factors that shaped China's foreign policy towards NK in the post-cold war era are: the strategic importance of the Korean Peninsula to China's security as a buffer zone and an ally against American or Japanese influence in East Asia, and to reinforce the legitimacy of the Chinese socialist development strategy. r dn

China and North Korea, with or with Soviet Union, are communist regimes. Therefore, the survival and legitimacy of the communist ideology depends on their political, social, and economic success. The similarities between the two regimes mean that the demise of one will have a negative effect on the other. China refuses to be the only communist state standing. Furthermore, China perceives North Korea as an ally against the imperialistic aspirations of the United States. Thus, this anti American feeling plays a major role in the relationship between the two. Add to this, national unification is a major issue for both countries. The feeling on being divided nations reinforces the ideological connection between them. In a way, these two countries seem to have a lot in common and need each other's assistance to pursue their domestic and international goals.

Nevertheless, their bilateral relations are far from being those of allies. Their relations tough multidimensional are on-sided. This means that one of them, China, is making all the work and providing all the assistance in exchange of almost nothing. This is caused in great part to the unpredictable and erratic behavior of NK's leadership. NK's has not showed any signs of economic progress under the current regime. In fact, after Kim Jong-Il took control over North Korea in 1995 things have gotten even more complicated. Under the leadership of Kim Jong Il, the North Korean economy has deteriorated even more.

This situation suggests that China's support to NK comes from necessity and the lack of alternative options rather than from a bond of friendship based on common goals, aspirations and ideologies. It is more likely that China's support to NK comes from the fear that an isolated and friendless NK could adopt extreme measures that could destabilized the area. In other words, NK does not have much to contribute as a collaborator, but can be very harmful as an adversary.

China, as a member of the UN Security Council, has been trying to persuade NK to develop nuclear weapons. Also, China tried to persuade NK to join the United Nations along with South Korea in 1991 and to comply with the parameters of the IAEA. The nuclear crisis that erupted in the Korean Peninsula in 1993 as a result of the withdrawing of North Korea from the Non-Proliferation Treaty to supposedly pursue the development of a nuclear weapons program put to the test China's commitment towards its relation with NK. At the Security Council, China openly opposed the imposition of economic sanctions. Yet, China did urge NK to comply with the NPT.

The apparent contradicting stand of China on this issue serves to purposes: to avoid the nuclearization of the Korean Peninsula and to avoid going against a socialist regime. China's agenda on this issue goes beyond merely stopping the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction. On one hand, China fears that sanctions would lead to the collapse of the fragile North Korean economy. Also, China wants to use the North Korean case to expose its strong opposition to any kind of exogenous intervention in the internal matters of a regime-specially a socialist one. On the other hand, China does not want NK to have nuclear weapons for two reasons: (1) to have the monopoly on nuclear weapons possession in East Asia and (2) for fear that Japan might seek to acquire nuclear weapons to balance NK's nuclear threat. China might fear an out-of-control NK, but is completely terrified by a Japan with nuclear weapons. In the eventuality of a major crisis in the Korean peninsula, it is very likely that the United States and Japan would intervene. This would place U.S. and Japanese troops right at the doorstep of China. Thus, China would be forced to deal with these two powers without a buffer zone. This being so, China's strategy the nuclear crisis in the Korean Peninsula is a good example of the different but complementary interests that characterized the Sino-North Korea relations.

With all these in mind, one could argue that China will keep sending aid to North Korea as long as Kim Jong Il shows some willingness to engage in an economic reform similar to the one happening in China. This being so, China is not interested in regime change in NK as much as in the opening of its economy Without a doubt, the development of North Korea and the survival of its communist regime are very important to China. Nevertheless, the failure of North Korea to become self-sufficient and to normalize relations with other countries imposes a heavy burden on China. Currently, China is the major provider of aid to North Korea and openly opposes the imposition of economic sanctions of any kind and intervention. For example, China provides about three-quarters of NK's petroleum and one-third of NK's exports go to China. Certainly, this indicates that China is committed to avoid the collapse of the North Korean regime. Indeed, many members of the CCP would like to see the NK's regime to survive and prosper. Yet, not even China with its impressive economic growth can sustain NK's regime indefinitely.

The strategic position of North Korea in the security schema of China and their ideological affinities between them, seem to be just not enough for China to keep offering support to KK. China is looking for a stable Korean peninsula and trading partners that can contribute to its economic development. Yet, NK seems to be doing more harm than good to the Chinese cause. NK will always remain important for China. Yet, China's commitment to rescue its communist partner will be put to the test in the coming years as China's modernizations moves forward while KN moves in the opposite direction. NK presents China with a major dilemma: the status quo of NK is problematic, instable, and unsustainable. Yet, at the same time, the leadership of the CCP is afraid that external-induced change can produce a major crisis on the peninsula. The dream situation for China would be a unified-stable and peaceful Korean peninsula, but that is very unlikely to happen in the near future. Thus, China has to find a way to keep supporting NK without disrupting its economic relations with South Korea.

Conclusion

Since the Korean War, China's foreign policy towards NK has been based on China's regional security concerns, economic goals, and the ideology of the Chinese leadership at the time. In addition, the experience of fighting together in the Korean War still lingers in the minds of both Chinese and North Korean people. Trying to put together a consistent course of action that combines all these elements has given Chinese foreign policy towards NK a rather peculiar and sometimes contradictory tone. In principle, the Chinese Communist Party has the obligation of provide assistance to the North Korean regime to improve the economy of the country. However, North Korea's behavior and rationale have brought nothing to the CCP that yet another challenge to its modernization efforts in China. This being so, China's relations with NK seem to be a necessary burden in China's struggle to accommodate its communist ideology in a world made that evolved capitalist.

China's relation with NK poses a major challenge for its ability to develop a coherent and consistent foreign policy. Also, the conflict of interests involved in having to keep NK from collapsing reflects the dilemma that China is facing nowadays regarding its ideology and history. The ability of China to become a modern and prosperous nation, and a major economic and political force in the world, while remaining communist is yet to be seen. Some may argue that by definition this is impossible to achieve. After all, can Shanghai become a modern and influential financial center in the like of Tokyo or New York under a communist regime? The answer to this question will depend on the ability of the Chinese leadership to combine a market economic with a communist ideology. The future of the relations between China and NK depends in great in the ability of China to solve this dilemma. The Korean Peninsula will always remain important in China's security concerns. However, as China moves toward and NK remains the same, the ideological and historical bond between the two will become weaker and weaker.

Works Cited

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Jian. Chen. 1994. China's Road to the Korean War: The Making of the Sino-American Confrontation. New York. Columbia University Press.

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Jian. Chen. 1994. China's Road to the Korean War: The Making of the Sino-American Confrontation. New York. Columbia University Press.

Scobell, Andrew. March 2004. China and North Korea: From Comrades-in-arms to Allies At Arm's Length. The Strategic Institute Studies.

Jian. Chen. 1994. China's Road to the Korean War: The Making of the Sino-American Confrontation. New York. Columbia University Press.

Chung, O. Chin. 1978. Pyongyang Between Peking and Moscow: North Korea's Involvement in the Sino-Soviet Dispute, 1958 - 1975. Alabama: The University of Alabama Press.

Chung, O. Chin. 1978. Pyongyang Between Peking and Moscow: North Korea's Involvement in the Sino-Soviet Dispute, 1958 - 1975. Alabama: The University of Alabama Press.

Chung, O. Chin. 1978. Pyongyang Between Peking and Moscow: North Korea's Involvement in the Sino-Soviet Dispute, 1958 - 1975. Alabama: The University of Alabama Press.

Chung, O. Chin. 1978. Pyongyang Between Peking and Moscow: North Korea's Involvement in the Sino-Soviet Dispute, 1958 - 1975. Alabama: The University of Alabama Press.

Lampton, David. 2001. The Making of Chinese Foreign and Security Policy in the Era of Reform. California: Stanford University Press.

Lampton, David. 2001. The Making of Chinese Foreign and Security Policy in the Era of Reform. California: Stanford University Press.

Scobell, Andrew. March 2004. China and North Korea: From Comrades-in-arms to Allies At Arm's Length. The Strategic Institute Studies.

Scobell, Andrew. March 2004. China and North Korea: From Comrades-in-arms to Allies At Arm's Length. The Strategic Institute Studies.

Ong, Russell. June 2000. North Korea's Enduring Importance to China's Security Interests in the Post-Cold War Era. Asian Journal of Politics. Vol. 8, Number 1.

Scobell, Andrew. March 2004. China and North Korea: From Comrades-in-arms to Allies At Arm's Length. The Strategic Institute Studies.

Lampton, David. 2001. The Making of Chinese Foreign and Security Policy in the Era of Reform. California: Stanford University Press.

Lampton, David. 2001. The Making of Chinese Foreign and Security Policy in the Era of Reform. California: Stanford University Press.

Lampton, David. 2001. The Making of Chinese Foreign and Security Policy in the Era of Reform. California: Stanford University Press.

Scobell, Andrew. March 2004. China and North Korea: From Comrades-in-arms to Allies At Arm's Length. The Strategic Institute Studies.

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