China's North Korea Policy: Risky Neighbourhood

North Korea’s nuclear ambitions present China with one of its greatest diplomatic challenges since it began to forge links beyond the communist world three decades ago. Beijing faces a testing dilemma. It wants to stop its neighbour developing a nuclear arsenal, but holds back from exercising its infuence fully and is wary of becoming trapped in a conflict that could convulse the whole region.

The World Today Updated 19 October 2020 Published 1 October 2004 6 minute READ

Tuva Kahrs

Political risk consultant on northeast Asia

After months of effort, the Six Party Talks Beijing convened to defuse the crisis have achieved little. China finds itself between the intransigence of North Korea and the United States. In this finely balanced situation, the unexpected revelation that the South has been experimenting with uranium enrichment has refocused international attention on east Asia’s most incendiary problem.

The Korean peninsula has a pivotal role in the politics of northeast Asia where shifts in the geopolitical balance are played out. As the nuclear crisis shows, the interests and policies of China, Japan, Russia and the United States remain crucial in influencing developments. The issue intersects directly with China-US relations and has serious implications for regional security.

In the absence of a multilateral security framework, Chinese policy towards the North is probably the most important outside factor. But what drives this policy, and what constrains it?

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