The Asan Institute for Policy Studies hosted the 2nd Asan Institute Roundtable on “Current China-DPRK Relations” on April 29, 2010.
Hahm Chaibong (Director, Asan Institute) was the moderator, and Dong Yongseung (Researcher, Samsung Economic Research Institute), Park Byunggwang (Researcher, The Institute for National Security Strategy), Lee Jongsuk (Researcher, The Sejong Institute), and Han Sukhee (Professor, Yonsei University) participated as panelists.
After the Cold War, China-DPRK relations has been known as “friendly relations forged with blood” and has become more complicated over the years. In the 90s, North Korea has suffered from economic hardships and recently, it has shown signs of domestic instability with Chairman Kim Jong-il’s weakened health, difficulties surrounding the succession process, and the failure of the currency reform. Externally, North Korea, along with Iran and Iraq, has been termed an “axis of evil” country by the U.S. and condemned by the international community because of its nuclear program and long-range missile tests. Furthermore, after the establishment of the Lee Myung-bak administration in South Korea, the North-South relations has deteriorated and North Korea is now more isolated than ever before. In this situation, that North Korea would increase its dependence on China may be an obvious occurrence. At the same time, as ideological ties between the two countries have weakened since the end of the Cold War and the importance for each country to pursue practical policies has increased, China and North Korea have had conflicts over important security issues.
Two conflicting perspectives exist regarding the changes in China-DPRK relations since the Cold War. Those who consider China as a threat stress the influence of China on North Korea in areas of military, politics, and economy and North Korea’s increased subordination to China. In order to check China’s influence on North Korea, South Korea would need to engage North Korea at a greater level. On the other hand, those who believe that as a new great power in the global community, China would find maintaining strong relations with a rogue state like North Korea difficult if it wants to be respected as a “responsible great power” by other states.
The Roundtable, which was held in the memory of the sailors killed in the Cheonan incident, analyzed and discussed the various aspects of China-DPRK relations. The topics covered included the six-party talks and China’s role in the meetings, China’s reaction to the North Korean nuclear program, and China’s aid to North Korea. Although the roundtable was held before the official report of the international investigative team on the Cheonan incident, the incident was also discussed because of its significance.
The participants offered an open view and perspective on the China-DPRK relations and discussed economic relations, political relations, and the nuclear program. Dong Yonseung of Samsung Economic Research Institute explained that the increased economic relations between the two countries were a result of North Korea’s internal changes and China’s belief that it is necessary. Park Byunggwang of the Institute for National Security Strategy stressed that while on the political front, China’s perception of North Korea has changed, but this has not led to a significant and meaningful change in China’s North Korea policy. Lee Jongsuk of the Sejong Institute (and the former Minister of Unification) defined the current China-DPRK relations as a “strategic partnership” and analyzed the two-faced nature of China toward the North Korean nuclear issue. Professor Han Sukhee of Yonsei University answered the question as to whether China will become a “responsible great power” or a “hegemonic power” by concluding that China will choose neither path and that even if it acts like a responsible great power, it will not give up its alliance with North Korea.