Most people on earth have heard of North Korea, the Hermit Kingdom. We have all read about its leader, Kim Jong-Un, and his penchant for nuclear weapons and ballistic missiles. We have also heard of its giant neighbour to the north of the North, China. In recent times, Donald Trump has been trying to get China to exert more pressure on North Korea to stop their nuclear program. But this leaves a crucial question: What relation does China have with North Korea that they may pressure North Korea to do something?
The relation between North Korea and China goes back to the ‘40s. During the Chinese Civil War, many ethnic Koreans fought on the side of the Communists, later returning to North Korea. When China intervened in Korea in 1950, the friendship between the North Koreans and the Chinese was further solidified. After the war, China and North Korea signed a treaty of friendship, and relations have been warm ever since. However, in recent years, China-North Korea relations have been deteriorating. North Korea’s nuclear tests have caused North Korea’s international reputation to plummet and this has led to China being perceived as the notorious powerhouse behind the despotic regime.
The North Korean state-run news ministry recently published a rare article criticizing China on its stance towards North Korea. Currently, China is the lifeline of North Korea, providing most of its food and energy, as well as being its largest trading partner. However, does North Korea really give anything back to China? By backing North Korea, one of the most infamous countries on the planet, China is decreasing its own international reputation. So why, then, would China back North Korea?
China’s level of development varies from region to region. While the Chinese government has stepped up infrastructure projects and the like in rural areas, the fact remains that there is a gap between larger cities on the East coast (like Beijing) and cities in central and northern China. As such, the region bordering North Korea is fairly underdeveloped, despite being China’s former industrial base back in the ‘30s. If China cuts off all support to North Korea, strictly enforcing sanctions, then North Korea will face a large crisis. As soon as North Koreans living near the Yalu river realize that life has just become much more difficult, China will face an influx of refugees into an already underdeveloped region, destabilizing the region.
North Korea also acts as a buffer zone for China. North Korea’s neighbor South Korea is a supposed ally of the United States of America, and has large numbers of American troops stationed on its soil. Were North Korea to collapse, South Korea could very well move in and take control. If that were to happen, then not only would the political repercussions be large, but China would also have American troops on its border; something that no non-US aligned country would want.
To sum things up, China isn’t particularly affectionate to North Korea per se. However, China has fought together with North Korea in the past, and also fears the collapse of the North Korean government should they cease to provide support.