The North Korean and Chinese Relationship
China and North Korea have long been allies. Both countries were part of the Axis of Evil, and had a close relationship during the Cold War. In recent years, China has tried to distance itself from the increasingly isolated regime of the Hermit Kingdom, but the two countries remain closely intertwined politically, economically and militarily. Currently, China provides North Korea with extensive economic and military aid, as well as trade and investment. China has also defended North Korea in the international arena.
In 2017, the two countries signed a comprehensive strategic partnership, where leaders of both countries pledged to strengthen their relations and collaborate for mutual benefit. Although the extent of the alliance is not clear, media reports suggest that China would indeed be willing to fight for North Korea in the event of an armed conflict.
Reasons for China to Intervene
China’s main interest in North Korea is maintaining regional stability, which would be disrupted if North Korea was attacked by powers like the United States. If a conflict were to break out, it would likely spread to China, bringing with it the potential for serious economic, political, and military consequences. China is also concerned about the potential for a US military presence on its doorstep, which would undermine its own security interests.
The two nations also share a long history, and China is invested in preserving North Korean culture and beliefs. This relationship extends to military ties; the two countries are tied together by a mutual defense treaty that allowses China to support North Korea in the event of an armed attack.
China’s Stance on the Issue
While China has not explicitly stated that it would intervene in a conflict in defense of North Korea, there are indications that it would. China has repeatedly accused the United States of engaging in “heavy-handed military provocation” in the region, and has warned that any military action against North Korea would not be tolerated. In 2017, Chinese President Xi Jinping made a rare trip to Pyongyang, where he stressed the importance of the relationship between the two countries and condemned US aggression. Chinese officials have also made statements calling for restraint and dialogue, instead of military action, when dealing with the North Korea issue.
The Possibility of International Intervention
Should armed conflict break out, it is possible that not only China, but also other international actors, could intervene. Some experts suggest that the United States and its allies would also intervene, given their multifaceted interests in the region. It is also possible that Russia, which also has strategic and military interests in the region, could get involved.
Foreign Policy Implications
The potential for a scenario in which China intervenes on behalf of North Korea has broad implications for US foreign policy. If China were to intervene, it could drastically shift the balance of power in the region. US and allied forces would be forced to re-examine their strategies, in order to come up with effective countermeasures to offset the Chinese presence.
Economic and Trade Implications
Another potential consequence of Chinese intervention is economic disruption. Tensions between the United States and China have been escalating in recent years, and a conflict in the region could exacerbate existing tensions and even lead to a trade war. Countries like China and the United States would be forced to adjust their trade policies in order to manage the fallout from an armed conflict.
International Law and Human Rights Implications
An armed conflict could also lead to a violation of international law and human rights. Foremost, a Chinese intervention would raise questions of sovereignty and self-determination. There is also the possibility of North Korea being used as a proxy to engage in a larger conflict between powers like China and the United States. This could lead to violations of the laws of war and human rights abuses as belligerents seek to gain an upper hand over one another.
Finally, there are potential political implications of a Chinese intervention. If China did indeed intervene on the side of North Korea, it could be seen as an attempt by China to assert its dominance in the region and challenge US hegemony. This could have serious repercussions for US politics and international relations.
Risk of Nuclear Weapons
The risk of nuclear weapons being used also exists in the event of conflict between North Korea and the United States. If North Korea is threatened by a foreign power, it is possible that the regime would resort to using its nuclear capabilities. This would have devastating consequences and could lead to the proliferation of nuclear weapons in the region.
Implications for China if War Breaks Out
The Chinese government would also be forced to take into account the potential implications of a war on its own territory and people. Even if China does not intervene, a war in the region could have serious ramifications for China’s interests. The nation would be left to deal with the fallout of the conflict and could face an influx of refugees, economic disruption and environmental damage.
At present, it is difficult to predict with any certainty whether China would intervene on behalf of North Korea should armed conflict erupt in the region. There are a variety of factors that could influence China’s decision, and ultimately only time will tell whether a Chinese intervention would indeed occur. That being said, it is evident that a Chinese decision to intervene would have profound implications, not only in the region but all around the world.