China’s Relations With North Korea

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The bilateral relations between the People’s Republic of China and North Korea have existed for several decades. North Korea considers China as one of its allies in terms of trade partnerships, as well as providing a reliable source of energy and food (Kim 2011). Over the years, China has provided relentless support towards various regimes of leadership in North Korea (Scobell & Cozad 2015).

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One of the biggest challenges that China has helped North Korea address is the threat of numerous international sanctions, which have always threatened to destabilize the country’s leadership structure. In recent years, China has helped the regime of Kim Jong-un’s against the growing challenge of refugees getting into the country through its borders (Kim 2011). The diplomatic relations between these two allies has attracted global attention, especially with regard to the way they started on a positive note, but eventually started drifting towards a deeply rooted hatred and mistrust.

In recent years, North Korea’s current regime under President Kim Jong-un has faced numerous threats of collapsing owing to the fact that people do not show any support towards its leadership style and policies on international relations (Kim 2011). China is losing its patience and trust with North Korea due its ongoing nuclear weapons program.

China’s biggest concern has been the fact that its ally failed to consult on such an important issue that has so far created a lot of instability across Asia (Perlez 2014). Political analysts argue that the lack of cooperation and trust shown by North Korea towards China could be a major contributing factor towards its ally’s changing priorities with regard to its foreign policies.


Diplomatic relations between China and North Korea were first recognized in 1950. During this year, China made a huge sacrifice by deciding to be part of the Korean War in a bid to boost the efforts of North Korea (Stueck 2004). The biggest motivation for China in the war was the need to rebel against the United Nations command, which was introducing a number of sanctions on their ally (Xu & Bajoria 2014).

China provided enormous support to North Korea by funding their activities, sending volunteers to help people, as well as accepting refugees and students who managed to free from the upsurge (Stueck 2004). Even after the war ended in 1953, China remained as one of the biggest allies of North Korea. It made a lot of contribution with regard to efforts geared towards economic redemption of Pyongyang, the country’s capital city and industrial centre (Stueck 2004). In its history, China has shown great support for three of North Korea’s leaders, namely Kim II-sung, Kim Jong-il, and the incumbent Kim Jong-un (Xu & Bajoria 2014).

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In 1961, the relations between the two countries were further strengthened following the signing of a treaty called Sino-North Korean Mutual Aid and Cooperation Friendship Treaty (Kim 2014). The agreement is valid until 2021, and China pledged to offer various forms of assistance to North Korea, especially against external threats. China has over the years involved its self in various talks geared towards addressing various challenges associated with its ally’s nuclear weapons program (Perlez 2014).

In 2003, a framework involving six parties, among them China was developed to develop an effective way of making North Korea nuclear free owing the amount of threat the program was posing to neighbouring countries (Kim 2014). Political analysts argue that this move could have influenced the development of rifts in the impressive relations between the two countries. North Korea’s three nuclear tests in 2006, 2009, and the latest one in 2013 sparked a feeling of anger and mistrust among the Chinese people because they were not consulted (Moore 2014).

In the recent past, China has also raised its concerns over the stability of North Korea’s leadership following the death of President Kim Jong-un’s adviser under unclear circumstances. All these factors are likely to heighten the unfreezing relations between the two allies (Perlez 2014). Research shows that strains started developing in the relations between the two countries in 2006 following the second nuclear test. Around the same time, China started showing support towards the 1718 United Nations Security Council resolution that allowed the imposing of sanctions on North Korea’s capital city (Mo 2005).

International relations experts believe that this was a clear indication from China to North Korea that things were starting to change. Over the years, the relationship between China and North Korea developed along the desire to promote diplomacy. Lately, the orientation of their relations has changed by adapting a desire to punish. The first move that China made involved the nuclear test conducted by North Korea in 2013 (Kim 2014). The move involved imposing sanctions on their trade relations, as well as cutting the supply of energy.

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Another move that China has made in its efforts to show its annoyance with the conduct of North Korea is its criticism of the shockingly cruel and inhumane treatment of its citizens as detailed in a United Nations report (Mo 2005). China expressed its displeasure with the way the North Korean government was ignoring the plight of its people, and even threatened to use its power to make a vote that will block the decision of the international community to make an intervention (Xu & Bajoria 2014).

China believes that it has helped North Korea clear its own mess so many times, until it has developed some degree of complacency about it. However, despite all the concerns raised by China over the conduct of its ally, the chances of their relations coming to an end are very minimal because of various treaties signed between the two (Mo 2005).

The most likely outcome is that North Korea will seize being a priority to China’s foreign policies. Although the cold nature of China’s with North Korea is quite evident, analysts argue that China would never support any attacks by the United States towards its ally (Xu & Bajoria 2014). United States has been one of the contributing factors to the sourness that has developed in the relations of the two allies, with the nuclear weapons program taking centre stage.

Economic and military relations

There is a lot at stake in the relationship between the two countries, which would see China lose a lot if it decides to stop supporting North Korea. Statistics indicate that close to 50% of North Korea’s foreign aid comes from China (Cotton & Neary 2000). A good example is the period from 1996 to 1998 when North Korea was faced with an acute food shortage.

China was their closest ally that provided the biggest contribution through food aid. The relationship between these two neighbouring countries is tied very much along economic and military needs. Realistically, North Korea depends a lot on China for its trade development and military needs (Cotton & Neary 2000). For example, statistics indicate that over the last couple of decades, China receives just a fraction of North Korea’s exports. On the other hand, North Korea takes more than a half of the China’s food and energy exportations (Moore 2014).

The relations of China and North Korea in the banking sector have not been very impressive. The foreign exchange banks of the two countries have had a very unstable relationship (Madison 2007). This has affected the ability of North Korea to achieve its desired level of economic growth. Research has established that this phenomenon has affected the ability of both countries to have meaningful investment partnerships because of the inequalities brought about by the level of economic dependency (Cotton & Neary 2000).

However, the two countries have enjoyed very successful military relations. China helped North Korea a lot during the Korean War, as well as in numerous security issues faced over the years (Madison 2007). One of the main events in the history of the two countries that showed their commitment towards strengthening their military relations is the two visits to North Korea by China’s Defence Ministers in 2006 and 2009 (Moore 2014). Experts argue that this played a crucial role in assuring the people of North Korea of the unending military support from China.

China’s foreign policy priorities

Over the years, the main focus of China’s foreign policies has been focused on supporting North Korea in its various development programs. In particular, the Korean peninsula has received a lot of attention from China because its stability is very important to economic, social, and political development (Madison 2007). China has also focused a lot on ensuring that its border with South Korea is always safe owing to the fact that there are several troops from the United States in the country (Xu & Bajoria 2014).

China has always emphasized the importance of maintaining peaceful relations with South Korea as a way of helping North Korea achieve its development objectives without much disturbance. Over the years, China has also prioritized its foreign policies towards helping the development of guiding principles with regard to governance in North Korea (Scobell & Cozad 2015). For example, after the death of North Korea’s leader Kim Jong-il, China has made numerous efforts to help bring together their own counterparts, as well as some from the United States and North Korea to discuss various threats facing the country’s leadership (Robinson 2012).

The foreign policy priorities for China are not only focused on helping North Korea solve its numerous challenges, but also for easing the numerous pressures associated with providing help to them (Xu & Bajoria 2014). For example, there are a several refugees from North Korea who settled in China during the Korean conflict. International relations experts argue that the influx of refugees in the country has led to numerous worries among the top leaders, who have to ensure that they treat them well in accordance to the guidelines provided by the United Nations (Robinson 2012).

This has led to China to focus on developing foreign policies with an orientation towards achieving stability in North Korea and reducing the chances of a war breaking out (Cotton & Neary 2000). Reports indicate that the biggest worry among the Chinese is the possible collapse of their ally’s leadership regime, as it would lead to instability along the border (Liu 2004).

On numerous occasions, China has raised its displeasure with the kind of interference major world super powers such as the United States have on the issues affecting North Korea (Park & Snyder 2013). According to Xi Jinping, the Chinese president, North Korea is not in a position to handle too much pressure owing to the fact that the country’s leadership is already under immense pressure from its own people (Xu & Bajoria 2014). Currently, the North Korea’s regime is under the threat of collapsing if the issues surrounding top leaders are not resolved in time.

Policy development in China is also guided by the need to protect the sovereignty of its people against attacks by various enemies. For example, China has received a lot of criticism from human rights activists for the manner in which they have tried to address the issue of North Korean refugees (Kim 2014). In 2006, China launched a project to build a fence along its border with North Korea in order prevent the escalation of the challenge of refugees.

This strategy has attracted the attention of numerous human rights groups, which argue that China should be ready to honour its part in the treaties signed with North Korea regarding their willingness to provide all manner of support (Blanchard 2010). However, policy makers in China believe that despite the pledges they made in the treaties, it is the ethical obligation of a country’s leader to protect national interests, especially against an old ally who’s acting in a disrespectful manner (Kim 2014).

Over the last couple of years, China has also raised a lot of questions with regard to its commitment towards helping North Korea in a situation involving military conflict (Xu & Bajoria 2014). These concerns have been raised due to the treaty on cooperation, friendship, and assistance signed with North Korea that obligated China to provide military support to its ally if they are provoked (Guo & Hua 2007). The main reason for the development of this controversy has been the fact that China has the independence to apply their own meaning with regard to various clauses of the treaty that define their level of assistance to be offered.

This has influenced some changes in terms of the priority issues addressed by foreign policies formulated (Scobell & Cozad 2015). Currently, foreign policies developed by the Chinese government focus more on addressing matters of national interest, unlike in the past when the process of policy formulation was dominated by discussions on the effective ways of meeting the goals of alliances developed on the basis of ideological interests (Xu & Bajoria 2014).


China is one of the biggest and most loyal allies of North Korea. It has helped out North Korea on numerous occasions, some of which are hard to recall and explain their characteristic elements. Despite the good relations shared between the two countries, there have been huge differences brought about issues such as North Korea’s nuclear weapon program, its refugees in China, and interference from global superpowers such as the United States. Most foreign policies in China focus on the need to achieve stability in North Korea by avoiding an outbreak of war. This will play a major role in protecting the current regime against collapsing.


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DemoEssays. "China’s Relations With North Korea." February 9, 2022.