Complex geopolitics makes stable North Korea vital to China

By Wang Xiaobo Source:Global Times Published: 2019/1/15 13:58:33

Illustration: Liu Rui/GT

North Korean leader Kim Jong-un's recent visit to China, his fourth to the country within 10 months, revealed how crucial Beijing is for Pyongyang's neighborhood diplomacy. China is the largest developing country, but yet not a great power in the traditional sense. North Korea lies at the "crossroads" of Northeast Asia. A discussion on how to shape Beijing-Pyongyang ties and form a favorable peripheral diplomacy for China is relevant here.

The location of China and North Korea plays an important role in geopolitics. Although the Pacific is wide enough to accommodate both China and the US, other powers cannot accept this in traditional thinking patterns, and intend to contain China by interfering with Pyongyang's nuclear issue. 

The complexity of geopolitics has led to long-term conflicts and disputes on the Korean Peninsula. The stability of North Korea is crucial for China's peaceful development. Beijing's actions in Northeast Asia not only affect North Korea and neighboring countries, but also influence international dynamics. 

Hence, building and maintaining its strategic relations with North Korea and the region is an urgent task for China to develop from a regional power to a world player. Cooperation between Beijing and Washington can start from the Korean peninsula. Multilateral cooperation among China, North Korea and the US is required to address the question of North Korea's nuclear program.

Complicated geopolitics determines the importance of China-North Korea relations in China's diplomacy. The number of countries surrounding China is the largest in the world. These countries are different from China in their political systems, economic and social development models. Managing ties with these countries is a tough and inevitable challenge to China. 

Chinese President Xi Jinping also stressed "the strategic significance of neighboring countries no matter in terms of geography, environment and relations" and proposed "letting the awareness of community of common destiny take root in the neighboring countries." 

There are diverse elements influencing China's neighborhood diplomatic strategy. Among them are the long-term geopolitical structure, which triggered the China-Japan row, North Korea's nuclear ambition, US interference, the South China Sea dispute and some problems left over from history, and territorial rows etc. North Korea has announced it would suspend its nuclear and missile testing program. There are new breakthroughs in both Beijing-Pyongyang and Seoul-Pyongyang ties. 

A second Trump-Kim summit is expected. However, the "new path" North Korea will take is unpredictable if the international community cannot deal with the situation in the right spirit. When communicating with countries in the region, China focuses more on politics and economy, but weak in military and cultural exchanges. Beijing lacks effective means to cope with conjectures like the "China threat." Efforts at shaping public opinion are not sufficient. China needs more theoretical research and a stronger institutional system. Current research is limited to providing suggestions on dealing with problems. 

Ties with North Korea are the foundation for China to boost its relations with other countries in the region. This year marks the 70th anniversary of the establishment of China-North Korea diplomatic relations. It provides an opportunity for Beijing and Pyongyang to cement relations and contribute to maintaining global peace, stability and prosperity. 

To achieve friendly ties with North Korea and other neighboring countries, China should combine firm principles and strategic flexibility. Guided by the Five Principles of Peaceful Coexistence, China can help lead North Korea on the correct path. Both countries should cooperate bilaterally and coordinate multilaterally. 

China will make use of friendly ties with North Korea to push for denuclearization thereby helping maintain peace and stability on the Korean Peninsula. By sharing the development experience of reform and opening-up, China can assist North Korea to boost development and make people's daily lives better. 

In conclusion, ideas determine outcome. If China hopes to achieve security, shaping good relations with North Korea and neighboring countries are essential.

The author is a professor at the College of Political Science and Public Management, Yanbian University.


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