Politics: China’s Relations with North Korea


China and North Korea have maintained bilateral relations for a very long time. They have enjoyed close diplomatic ties that have facilitated collaborations in various economic and foreign policy endeavors. However, these ties have been eroded by disagreements between the two countries regarding critical matters such as possession of nuclear weapons (Snyder 2009). North Korea has been accused of impounding Chinese fishing equipment on several occasions. Even though their relations are not as close as they used to be, they have not withdrawn their embassies from the other’s country. China plays an important role in implementing and promoting the U.S. policy toward North Korea (Gupta 2008).

Apart from that, it provides the country with food, machinery, consumer goods, technology, and fuel that are important for the growth of its economy. On the other hand, China receives raw materials from North Korea for its industries and gets a large market for consumer goods and technology. The China-North Korea relations exist because of economic gains, the need to maintain China’s foreign policy, and political stability (Kim 2004).

History of Diplomatic Relations

The People’s Republic of China (PRC) and the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK) formed diplomatic ties in 1949 (Kim 2004). One year later, the president of North Korea visited China to elicit support in the Korean War. China joined the war and supported its allies primarily due to their diplomatic ties that they had formed a year earlier. It sent its troops to Korea to aid in combating the United Nations Command, which was difficult to surmount (Snyder 2009). On the other hand, China accepted refugees and students from North Korea because of its economic superiority that enabled it to provide financial support.

The signing of the Korean War Armistice in 1953 ended the Korean War, which had caused massive destruction of infrastructure in involved countries (Gupta 2008). In order to help North Korea rebuild its economy, China offered financial help. This strengthened their diplomatic ties. In 1961, they entered signed the Sino-North Korean Mutual Aid and Cooperation Friendship Treaty that expressed their willingness to work together (Snyder 2009). In that treaty, China promised to offer any form of support in order to defend North Korea against external attacks. The renewal of this treaty over the years was a sign of the two countries’ pledge to continue working together. Their relations started dwindling after North Korea was accused of running a nuclear weapons program (Reilly 2014). Their relationship reached a low point when North Korea captured Chinese fishing vessels and demanded ransom.

Economic Relations

The main reason that explains the China-North Korea relations is economic gain. China has a huge economy that is ranked second in the world, and which is primarily responsible for sustaining the economy of North Korea (Reilly 2014). It is also the greatest external investor in the country with enterprises in different sectors.

North Korea receives consumer goods, machinery, food, fuel, and other products from its ally (Gupta 2008). On the other hand, China benefits economically by getting a ready market for its products. Beijing has tried to initiate talks with DPRK in order to convince its leaders to implement economic reforms that would guarantee growth similar to that experienced by China in the last few decades. North Korean leaders have reacted negatively to China’s involvement in their economy (Kim 2004).

They argue that involvement is one of the reasons why they cannot implement their own economic policies and reforms (Snyder, 2009). They depend on recommendations that do not work for their country. In addition, the involvement has resulted in the proliferation of private markets, which are bad for the country’s economic growth. China’s rapidly growing economy needs diverse markets for its products, and North Korea is one of them (Kihl & Kim 2006). It provides a ready and large market for its consumer products and industrial machinery. Through their bilateral relations, China has attained a large market for its products and a source of raw materials. Its involvement in the economy of the DPRK has numerous strategic consequences that affect it negatively. For instance, it hampers the practice of North Korea’s philosophy of autonomy and socialism (Park & Snyder 2013). In addition, the influx of consumer goods and the introduction of capitalism precepts have made it difficult for the president to lead effectively.

China and North Korea reap great economic benefits from their relationship (Sutter 2012). The economic relations of the two countries are based on three main areas, namely trade, banking, and investments. Half of the total amount of financial aid given to other countries by China is awarded to North Korea. This means that the recipient can depend only on this aid without soliciting help from the United Nations (Kim 2004). Bilateral ties have benefited both countries in various ways. For instance, North Korea benefits during food shortage periods by receiving food aid from China. China imports several products from North Korea. In 2009, the major Chinese imports were mineral fuels, iron and steel, seafood, fish, ores, salt, woven apparel, and sulfur (Park & Snyder 2013). North Korea benefits largely from technology developed by China to grow its economy. It has imported aquaculture technology that has aided in increasing fish production.

Political Gains

China’s relations with North Korea allow it to pursue its political matters without the interference of other countries because it offers enough aid to its diplomatic partner in order to eradicate dependence on the United Nations (Kihl & Kim 2006). Several reports have shown that a large portion of the food aid offered to North Korea is consumed by the military. This ensures that any food aid received from non-governmental organizations is given to the general population and not the military. China’s support promotes the stability of North Korea, which is important for its resistance to U.S military dominance in the region (Kim 2004).

In addition, the rise of Japan’s military is a great threat. Therefore, the stability of North Korea is a political advantage. One of China’s goals in the aforementioned diplomatic relations is stability. North Korea is a huge problem for the stability of the region because it runs a nuclear weapons program (Park & Snyder 2013). Currently, many refugees are moving to China owing to fears of a possible war in their country. The collapse of North Korea could initiate a whirlwind of political and economic ramifications for China. If North Korea continues with its nuclear weapons program, this could motivate Japan to develop its own weapons (Moore 2014).

It is important for China to maintain good relations with North Korea because that way, it will be able to factor out the support of the United States (Park & Snyder 2013). The Asian superpower is probably not going to severe bilateral relations with North Korea for fear of losing to the U.S. Despite the difficulties encountered by China in maintaining the relationship, bilateral ties with North Korea are very important and almost inevitable (Reilly 2014). Attacks on China by North Korea have been described as a way of trying to severe the relations that have far-reaching ramifications on economic growth and political reform (Park & Snyder 2013). North Korea practices socialism that is incompatible with China’s model of leadership.

Preservation of Foreign Policy

China’s foreign policy is very important for its economic growth and status as the second-largest economy in the world. The United States’ relations with North Korea are strained because they want them to abandon their nuclear weapons program in exchange for bilateral relations (Kihl & Kim 2006). However, North Koreans are not ready to obey. China and the United States approach this issue from different perspectives. The letter believes in using military force while the former beliefs in using diplomatic dialogue. China’s foreign policy is based on maintaining peace by avoiding problems from internal and external sources (Sutter 2012).

However, this policy has been affected by china’s internal problems that include the rise of nationalism, slow political reforms, violations of human rights, and weaknesses in its democratic process. North Korea’s development of nuclear weapons is a threat to its conservative foreign policy (Sutter 2012). There is a possibility that DPRK will use its weapons to spark war either with the U.S or other countries in the region, which could jeopardize China’s rapid rise into an economic behemoth in the world. This is one of the reasons why the diplomatic relations between the two countries have become strained in the past few years.

North Korea’s nuclear weapons program has affected China’s national interests and foreign policy in significant ways (Sutter, 2012). Several nuclear tests have been conducted without the potential effects on their relations. The relationship deteriorated further when a third nuclear test was conducted despite warnings from Beijing (Moore 2014). The test undermined its foreign policy that aims to maintain peace. President Xi Jinping has maintained that North Korea’s decision to test its long-range missiles undermined its foreign policy and threatened the security of Northeast Asia (Sutter 2012).

China is an interested party in the security of the region, which is being threatened by the nuclear weapons program. In that regard, China has improved its relations with Seoul in a bid to pressure North Korea into abandoning its nuclear weapons program in order to maintain stability in the region. Before the tests, China’s policy on North Korea was characterized by protection and economic pampering (Sutter 2012). However, this has changed in the past few years. China has placed several economic sanctions on DPRK.

The China-North Korea relationship is of great interest to the United States. The U.S. is determined to stop North Korea’s nuclear weapons program, impose economic sanctions, and protect North Korean refugees (Sutter 2012). This is only possible if China cooperates with them. Despite the emergence of rifts between the two counties, they both maintain their military alliance and economic partnership because their shared interests are greater than their differences.

China and the U.S have similar policies regarding North Korea’s situation. However, both have varied interests in the issue. China is interested in the stability of North Korea in the region, while the U.S is interested in the eradication of nuclear weapons programs (Park & Snyder 2013). North Korea capitalizes on China’s interest in its stability. Diplomatic relations are important to China because of the preservation of its foreign policy. Military provocations by North Korea could lead to war, which is contrary to China’s foreign policy. This challenge is solved by initiating more diplomatic talks.


The People’s Republic of China and the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea have been allies for a very long time. Their bilateral relations have existed since the signing of the Sino-North Korean Mutual Aid and Cooperation Friendship Treaty in 1961. The two Asian countries have maintained diplomatic ties that have enabled them to conduct trade together. Economic gain, perseveration of its foreign policy, and political stability are the major reasons that explain the existence of China-North Korea relations for several decades. Currently, diplomatic ties between the two countries have deteriorated due to disagreements on North Korea’s nuclear weapons program.

North Korea has performed several tests on their nuclear missiles despite several warnings. This defiance has been interpreted to mean that they want to break ties with China and seek better relations with other countries, especially in Europe. China’s foreign policy is based on the preservation of peace. However, North Korea’s actions have undermined this policy, and China is not pleased. Economic sanctions have not severed the ties completely because China fears to lose their ally to the U.S. The economic gains that both countries enjoy from the relationships are likely to contribute towards the resolution of the quagmire. Both countries would lose a lot by ending their partnership.


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Kihl, Y & Kim, H 2006, North Korea: The politics of Regime Survival, M. Sharpe, New York. Web.

Kim, S. S 2004, Inter-Korean Relations: Problems and Prospects, Palgrave Macmillan, New York. Web.

Moore, G 2014, North Korean Nuclear Operationality: Regional Security and Nonproliferation, JHU Press, New York. Web.

Park, K & Snyder S 2013, North Korea in Transition: Politics, Economy, and Society, Rowan & Little field, New York. Web.

Reilly, J 2014, The Curious Case of China’s Aid to North Korea, Asian Survey, vol. 54, no. 6, pp. 1158-1183. Web.

Snyder, S 2009, China’s Rise and the Two Koreas: Politics, Economics, Security, Lynne Rienner Publishers, New York. Web.

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