North Korean Nuclear Weapons Dilemma: China’s Uneasy Position – OpEd


By Heritiana Randrianantoandro*

The tour visit of US President Donald Trump in Asia has monopolized the world news followers’ attention, both academician and simple citizens, during these last days. As important as each and every visit he took, we single out his symbolic journey in Beijing.

The conclusion of commercial partnerships was the main part of the visit, no wonder if these contracts display a bargaining strategy to have Beijing’s side on the denuclearization of Pyongyang.

Nevertheless, the controversy on North Korean nuclear weapon program had the commanding influence during the meetings between the two protagonists, respectively US and China presidents.

In fact, Washington asks Beijing to economically squeeze Pyongyang. As reminder, Beijing has voted the latest United Nations sanctions against North Korea and assured to implement them.

How Does China Position Itself With Regard To The North Korean Nuclear Weapon Dilemma?

The desired peace has long been advocated by China and is part of its principles. Sun Tzu in the Art of War said “The Lowest form of war is to attack Cities”.

China is playing a key card as an important actor about this particular and unending issue of international concern: the nuclear program of North Korea.

Undoubtedly, a military alliance ties the two countries (the Sino-North Korean friendship treaty of 1961 includes a defense clause in case of invasion), but the main concern of Beijing is to avoid anything that might affect regional stability, guaranteeing its continued economic expansion. The collapse of the Pyongyang regime would entail a considerable risk to Beijing: arrivals of refugees and instability mainly in the border area where there are two million Chinese of Korean descent.

Looking back to some topical facts, we can see that China’s policy on this issue has evolved. In 2003, they opted on American compression. Besides, however by regional opportunism to a new and more exposed strategy, Beijing chose to be the builders of the dialogue between Pyongyang and Washington and to promote the framework of meetings. China’s involvement in such negotiations is intended as a pledge of its international responsibility.

Beijing, with its special relationship with the regime of Pyongyang, had played a preeminent role as a mediator in the settlement efforts on the North Korean nuclear crisis, as evidenced by the visit of President Hu Jintao in North Korea in October 2005 and the visit of the North Korean President Kim Jong-Il in China in January 2006.

The joint statement of the Six party talks [1] of September,19th 2005 had formed a diplomatic achievement for China: North Korea undertook to abandon to his weapons and existing nuclear programs and join the Non-Proliferation Treaty and the Conditions IAEA guarantee. This text also contained security assurances from the US authorities and the prospects of cooperation in the economic and energy field. Thus, China’s diplomacy, the origin of the text of the Joint Declaration, was able to be given therein the “red lines” of the United States like North Korea.

China, a permanent member of the Security Council, closer to Pyongyang, unequivocally condemned the nuclear test on October, 9th 2006 and Resolution 1718 of the Council of October, 14th 2006. Pyongyang has imposed an embargo on equipment related to nuclear technology or missiles, as well as weapons and related materials. At the end of October 2006, North Korea finally proposed to resume the six-party talks, reflecting the still strong influence of China.

Nowadays, however, Pyongyang’s nuclear tests and ongoing nuclear weapon threats have again raised concerns and troubled the international conciliation, posited itself as the world enemy. This has complicated its connection with Beijing. Indeed, relations between Beijing and Pyongyang are complex and cannot be reduced to the role of China as a mediator in the international crisis over North Korea’s nuclear weapon program. As said above, China has conceded and agreed to harsher penalties against North Korea.

Recently, Representatives in Beijing and Washington had specified that China has taken some significant actions on North Korea. As the North Korean accelerated nuclear tests and intercontinental ballistic missile launches, China acknowledged harder penalties at the United Nations towards Pyongyang. It has approved to undo banking bonds, limit the export of diesel fuel, terminate joint-venture businesses with North Korea.

Yet, lately, as a banned coal imports has been decided, the Beijing’s coal imports in August 2017 has raised doubt in the readiness of China to abide to the new U.N. sanctions. Though, it has been argued that Beijing only sought to resolve the remaining issue of the surplus coal from February by letting it enter the country in August, without any attempt to violate U.N sanctions.

This shows the uncomfortable position of China as even though it is willing to stabilize his relation with Korea and seek for peace in Asia, North Korea’s nuclear program is becoming gradually challenging for China’s yearning to preserve regional stability.

[1] the Fourth Round of the Six-Party Talks was held in Beijing among the People’s Republic of China, the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, Japan, the Republic of Korea, the Russian Federation, and the United States of America

About the author:
*Heritiana Randrianantoandro
, PhD Candidate in International relations at the School of International and Public Affairs, Jilin University China. Currently conducting research on international sanctions, power politics, international law, foreign policy and bargaining strategy. Holder of a MPhil in Public law &Political Science and a Master degree in Business and international law, my focus has been writing and conducting research on international political economy, international investments, interregionalism / regionalism, democracy.

This article was published by Modern Diplomacy

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