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#3765, 29 November 2012
IPCS Discussion: China's Role in North Korea's Stability and Regional Security
Teshu Singh
Research Officer, CRP, IPCS
e-mail: teshusinghdu@gmail.com

The report is a summary of the North Korea's Stability and Regional Security: China's Role event held at the IPCS on 15 November 2012

Dr. Rajaram Panda
For its own ideological and strategic reasons, China has assumed the role of North Korea’s most important ally and economic benefactor. North Korea factors under the development policy of-xiaokang of China. China's policy of non-interference in the internal affairs of North Korea raises doubts amongst the neighbouring countries about China's intentions. China has surely eyed North Korea’s raw materials, available in abundance in the northern part, which drives partly its North Korean policy. China has its own reasons to prevent a possibility of regime collapse because this will result in an uncontrolled influx of refugees across the border. A stable North Korea is in China's interests. China's 'Sunshine' Policy towards the North Korea is driven by this consideration.

De-nuclearisation of the Korean peninsula is another challenge. The ultimate goal of the regional powers and the US has been to persuade Pyongyang to discontinue its nuclear weapons program. This seems to be the prerequisite to ensure stability in the Peninsula. Another important task before China is to bring Pyongyang back to negotiating table of Six-Party Talks. In the interest of securing stability in the region, it is desirable that China continue to encourage Pyongyang to pursue a policy of openness and market reforms, with the ultimate objective to achieve eventual peaceful unification, under the political, economic and social systems on the model that exists in the South. This would be the desirable approach but seems unfeasible in the near term.

Prof. Srikanth Kondapalli
The overall policy of China towards North Korea is that it should be recognised not only by the UN but also by the US, thereby ending the ‘cold war’. Zhou Enlai, the first Premier of PRC, defined China-North Korea relations as “Lips and Teeth relations”.

Chinese Nationalists reproduced historical evidence to prove that China’s decline began mainly from the sea, starting from the Korean Peninsula. Chinese discourses begin with the Li Hongzhang factor; who was the main negotiator of the treaty of Shimonoseki. No Chinese leader wants to be dubbed as Li - meaning a traitor. This is one of the reasons why China remains sceptical tin furthering the North Korean perspective.

Again, “Lips and Teeth relations” is important to explain Chinese interest in the Korean Peninsula. China wants a pro-Beijing regime and considers it better than the “Sunshine Policy of Reunification”. This reunification policy should not pose challenges to China’s political leadership and Liaoning province in the long run. China’s role in North Korea is also greatly influenced by the US and Japan’s presence in the Korean Peninsula.

Soon after President Bush made the “Axis of Evil” speech, the US moved some vessels near the North Korean peninsula but its attention was diverted due to the wars in Iraq, Afghanistan and recently, Iran.

In case of regime fall in North Korea, the Chinese assessment is; firstly, there should be a pro-Beijing government. Secondly, the new leadership has to be chosen by the Beijing leadership, since there is tactical difference but strategic unity between the two governments. If there is a regime change, China still wants a pro-Beijing government rather than a pro-US or pro-South Korea government.

There are differences between China and North Korea in terms of the economic models they follow, however, Kim Jong II has shown considerable interest in China’s SEZs.

Currently, the target for the US is China rather than North Korea with its main focus remaining on the South China Sea dispute. North Korea is off the radar. China, though it has not revealed this yet, is also preparing for a post-Kim dynasty North Korea.

Dr. Sandip Mishra
Stability in North Korea and Northeast Asia must be sought also from the North Korean perspective as it has strong correlations with the Chinese role in the process. North Korea has historically tried to maintain autonomy of its foreign policy making. Its ideology of Juche is meant to defend its goal of self-reliance in every sphere of its policy-making. For the same reason, North Korea usually tries to play between China and Russia and create a space for its autonomous foreign policy.

At present, North Korea has only one supreme goal and that is survival of the regime, state and economic model. The goal is not easy as North Korean economy has been in bad shape for decades and its Cold War allies - China and the USSR don’t seem to be giving unconditional support for its security. North Korean nuclear and missile ambitions must be seen in this light. On the economic front, North Korea has tried to reform its system in the past but the process has not been able to go beyond a point. The reason is that North Korean economic reform is contingent on two factors. Firstly, it should not deviate too much from the ideology of Juche and secondly, there must be a stable security environment in the region.

Even though China has limited leverage over North Korea, it has been trying to achieve its own version of stability in North Korea by creating preconditions and incentives. However, the role of other regional players would also be crucial in arriving at a mutually acceptable stability in North Korea in the future.

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