Monday, December 9, 2013

Fire on the City Gate: Why China Keeps North Korea Close

The detailed and well sourced report can be downloaded at this link:

Bottom line:  Beijing wants to ensure there is no war or collapse on the Korean peninsula, in short to maintain the status quo.  In addition, US and international diplomacy of isolation and sanctions on north Korea to force denuclearization is likely to lead to instability and conflict.

Fire on the City Gate: Why China Keeps North Korea Close

Asia Report N°2549 Dec 2013
China tolerates the nuclear ambitions of North Korea (the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, DPRK) for now because its interests in the neighbourhood are much wider and more complex than this single issue. Beijing and the West often work toward their shared goal of a nuclear-free Korean peninsula with contradictory approaches that reflect their different priorities. The West uses diplomatic isolation, economic sanctions and extended deterrence to pressure Pyongyang to give up its nuclear program. Many Western policymakers believe the DPRK will denuclearise if sufficient costs are imposed and that Beijing holds the keys because the North is economically dependent on it. But China is reluctant to take any coercive action that might destabilise the regime and change a delicate geopolitical balance. It instead continues with diplomatic engagement and economic cooperation as the instruments it hopes will cause the leadership to denuclearise in the indeterminate future.
A decade has passed since the Six-Party Talks (China, Japan, the two Koreas, Russia and the U.S.) were convened to roll back the DPRK nuclear program; the last round was in December 2008. When the process began, many expected that the North’s brinkmanship and transgressions would lead China to exert strong pressure on it to reverse course. In that decade, however, the DPRK has conducted three underground nuclear tests and four long-range missile flight tests, torpedoed a South Korean (Republic of Korea, ROK) naval patrol boat and shelled a South Korean island, while still receiving political and economic support.
Following the third nuclear test, in February 2013, Beijing responded briefly with sternness, but a significant and lasting policy shift has yet to take place and does not appear likely any time soon. China’s fundamental geostrategic calculation remains in favour of sustaining the regime and keeping it close. Stability still trumps denuclearisation as a priority, and it does not perceive North Korea’s nuclear weapons as a direct or pressing threat, unlike the U.S. and its allies. Rather, it considers denuclearisation a long-term goal and appears to have resigned itself to living with a nuclear DPRK for the time being.
North Korea’s belligerent behaviour in March-April 2013 tested China’s patience, jeopardising regional stability and undermining Beijing’s interests in the midst of its once-a-decade leadership change. In response, Beijing supported and implemented additional UN sanctions, issued strong warnings and reportedly slowed joint economic development projects. President Xi Jinping’s messages from summits with his U.S. and South Korean counterparts signalled rising discontent with the regime. However, these actions were designed to manage the North’s behaviour and defuse mounting regional tensions, rather than to achieve denuclearisation. They were short-term, tactical and easily reversible, not indications of a strategic change in policy.
(Continued at the link below)

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