The recent shift in the relationship between North Korea and the United States may have been a good news and sign to a majority of the world, but not to China. It seems China is finding umbrage from being excluded from this conversation between the two powers and feels powerless in determining where the negotiations steer towards.
Many Chinese experts fear that North Korea would strive towards lessening its reliance on China and channel these security and trade needs towards South Korea and the United States. This negotiation that is rising from the horizon could potentially completely reverse the political relationship between the North and other stakeholders of the Korean War. China’s concern, therefore, is justified.
Zhang Baohui, a professor at international relations at Lingnan University in Hong Kong commented on this situation too with wariness: “The loss of prestige is a big problem for China and Xi, who wants everyone else to view China as an essential actor of international relations, especially in the Northeast Asian context.” He worries that China will lose its relevance and say in this conversation with the upcoming summit between the North and the US.
Mr. Kim’s attitude has also undergone great dramatic changes. From his initial firmness in not open to any negotiations of denuclearization until the US withdraws its forces from South Korea, he has recently adopted a much more willing and flexible stance, as he spoke about denuclearization of the North as long as it receives security guarantees with ease.
On the other hand, President Trump tweeted on Sunday morning that he would not be rushing towards a deal. Mr. Moon, the leader of South Korea, is also facilitating negotiations quickly with the North.
China has been advocating and fight side by side with the North since the Korean War of the 1950s. This change in diplomacy could mean the reversal of allyship and even a unified Korean Peninsula. Historically, China has been able to benefit from its allyship with the North by using it as a buffer from the United States.
The possibility of the alignment in the Korean peninsula could mean a drastic change in the political and military dynamics in Asia. As remarked by Xia Yafeng, a North Korea expert at Long Island University, “A unified, democratic Korea aligned with the U.S. will be dangerous to the Communist regime in China, though not necessarily the Chinese nation.”
China faces a dilemma here as while it is a strong advocate for a peace treaty for the Korean War, it also would like to not watch on the sideline the process of these negotiations. Chinese experts fear the repercussions of the withdrawal of American troops from South Korea.
It also feared that as the North seek security guarantees from the United States and the South, it will no longer need to depend on China for protection and trade. Currently, 90% of the North’s exports are dependent on China, including coal, minerals, seafood, textiles while China provides the North with abundant fuel.
China, however, as of now is still pushing for a peace treaty between the North and the rest of the world. In its state-run newspaper, it advocated for the cancellation of sanctions against North Korea after it had suspended its nuclear tests.
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