China Unlikely to Change Soon, Says ICG

A new report by the International Crisis Group has concluded that China cannot be expected to abandon its North Korean ally under the present set of international circumstances, since its own interests are currently best served by the continuing existence of the North Korean state, but does point out that China has begun to change the terms of its own domestic dialogue regarding its neighbor, which may allow for a wider range of policy responses in future.

The report, “Shades of Red: China’s Debate over North Korea,” claims that a lot of politicians and international analysts were guilty of over-stating the meaning of China’s acceptance of UN Resolution 1874 and the sanctions in which it resulted, saying that all it actually showed was that China is itself strongly averse to being internationally isolated, rather than dedicated anew to bringing about change in the North.

The Brussels-based think tank also notes that any list of Chinese priorities regarding North Korea continues to have stability at its head, with denuclearization some distance below, and for good reason. As many experts have pointed out, any instability in North Korea is likely to affect China first and foremost, in the form of, as the report puts it, “hundreds of thousands of North Korean refugees streaming across the border, or the strategic consequences of a precipitous reunification with South Korea.”

In addition, the report explains, the Chinese military sees the chances of North Korea “either developing, let alone using, nuclear weapons as low,” while Beijing also has friendly relations with the states that North Korea tends to sell its weaponry to, such as Pakistan and Iran, reducing any Chinese misgivings about such transactions.

On the other hand, however, the report suggests that by abandoning phrases such as “as close as lips and teeth” which have traditionally been employed by older generations to describe the China-DPRK relationship, and allowing an open and frank policy dialogue between groups the report describes as “Strategists” and “Traditionalists” within the Chinese political establishment, China “has laid the foundation for future changes and provided the government with more policy options going forward.”

Nevertheless, it concludes that, for the time being at least, “China is likely to continue navigating successfully between the U.S. and DPRK while trying to ensure overall stability on the Korean peninsula.”