China and North Korea: Time for Action

North Korea’s declaration on June 9 that it may have no option but to develop a nuclear deterrent is as much a challenge to Beijing as to Washington. Pyongyang’s actions in the escalating crisis are disrupting the regional stability that China’s security policy aims for, and its economic development requires. From the Chinese perspective, the latest episode is the continuation of a trend rather than an aberration. China’s prestige is at stake, its foreign policy unnecessarily paralysed.

The World Today Updated 21 October 2020 Published 1 July 2003 4 minute READ

Nicholas Khoo

Visiting Professor, Foreign Affairs College, Beijing

Beneath the veneer of friendly alliance, North Korea has been a persistent thorn in Beijing’s side. Given that Chinese policy-makers see themselves as skillful practitioners of realpolitik, they should be well placed tointervene and press the North to negotiate an agreement that meets US and Chinese security concerns.

The most striking aspect of Beijing’s recent policy is the extent to which the North has behaved in ways that challenge Chinese national interests and got away with it. An analysis of some common Chinese explanations for non-intervention suggests that a change of approach is in order. Intervention is not a choice. Were Beijing to continue its present course, it would be to invite US-led intervention in China’s strategic backyard, resulting in a significant loss of credibility.

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