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Vipin asked: What are China's interests in North Korea?

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  • Rup Narayan Das replies: The relationship between North Korea and China, described to be as close as ‘lips and teeth’, goes back to the Cold War years of 1950s when the Korean War broke out between the US and the People’s Republic of China (PRC). The US wanted to prevent the spread of communism and the Korean Peninsula was caught in the cross fire between the two rival camps. Finally, a truce was reached in which the Korean Peninsula was divided at 38th Parallel between North Korea, under a communist regime supported by the PRC, and South Korea, a democratic regime supported by the US. This is the root cause of China supporting North Korea. The PRC’s continued interest is in the maintenance of the status-quo and the regional balance of power. China is the main economic life line of North Korea and is its leading energy supplier and trade partner. China is seen to be one of the few countries in the world which has leverage over North Korea.

    The relationship between the two countries, however, is passing through some stresses and strains in the wake of Pyongyang’s rocket launch in December last year and its third nuclear test last month. The PRC had earlier opposed any new sanctions on North Korea when the latter launched Unha-3 rocket stressing that “actions that heighten tensions on the Korean Peninsula should not be taken”. China had also backed North Korea when it conducted nuclear tests in 2006 and 2009. The PRC, at the same time, is worried about prospects of instability in North Korea, which it fears may result from stricter sanctions. When Pyongyang conducted the third rocket launch last month, both the US and the PRC agreed that “a nuclear test would be troubling and a set back to the efforts to denuclearise the Korean Peninsula”. Both also agreed that the UN resolution 2087 expanding sanctions against Pyongyang was an “appropriate response and an important and strong response” to North Korea’s rocket launch. Beijing has also threatened North Korea with decrease in aid, if the latter goes ahead with an atomic bomb.