Would China Side With North Korea

Vying for power in East Asia, China and North Korea have been allies since their border was sealed during the Korean War. The relationship, while close, is often seen as a difficult one, with China now in a position to potentially side with North Korea in an escalating conflict should the need arise. Speculations linger on as to where China truly stands, with the country faced with an opportunity to either reaffirm its support or to step away.

It is expected that China would not support a unilateral American strike and the country has taken a cautious stance in the region. This does not come as a surprise as to oppose the United States would risk straining political ties and even potentially economic damage to the Chinese economy. A Chinese scholar by the name of Jia Jia at the Chinese Center for Strategic Studies claimed that “ China has to try its best to give a sort of well managed impression to the United States and to the international community, so that China’s involvement in regional politics … should be more welcomed.”

Despite opinions on the matter, it is slim to none that China will take sides against the United States. For China, it is difficult to simply place the blame on one nation while diplomatically they are unable to hold forth a complete military action. It remains that China’s greatest priority is stability in the region, and to act recklessly or out of emotion would not serve this purpose.

Meanwhile, it is uncertain as to whether China would or would not act on North Korea in its current situation. On one hand it is assumed that China has the power and the resources to pressure on North Korea, while on the other they are also aware that doing so could potentially draw more attention to the regime and their power from the United States. This in itself is a tight rope to walk as either step could result in both volatility and possible consequences for China.

Inside View

Experts believe that China’s primary focus is on preserving regional stability and that ultimately this would be the determining factor in siding either with the United States or North Korea. While China has been reticent in keeping a low profile and cautiously taking far more diplomatic steps as to not increase hostilities, ultimately it may decide to take a more assertive stance.

A Critical East Asia analyst, Zheng Wu, suggested that while China is unlikely to enter into a military conflict, they may choose to lower economic ties and potentially “use diplomatic pressure” in the event of US action. China itself has drawn a line in the sand when it comes to North Korea and thus a decision would most likely become an escalated show of force as to not let North Korea get out of line.

Essentially this means that a decision in this regard will depend on China assessing the United States’ course of action. Would the US pursue a military option, or would they choose to diplomatically tackle the issue first. This question is probably one of the main factors in the decision-making process for China.

Prior Interactions

China has had a long-standing relationship with North Korea, with the two countries being communist allies even before the Korean War. China has sent aid to North Korea, treated their citizens in hospitals, and even taken part in trade with the region. Even so, this has sometimes been a precarious relationship as North Korea has welcomed Chinese help but also kept a tight lid on its internal affairs.

At times there have been frosty moments, such as the North Korean nuclear crisis when China conducted UN Security Council resolutions to impose sanctions against North Korea. Even so, the relationship has usually been seen as one of necessity and it is believed that should the United States take military action China would also likely address the situation.

International Implications

In the event that North Korea were to be attacked, the implications would most likely spread further than just East Asia. There is the potential that North Korea would strike back and even retaliate, leaving the greater region to suffer in a ripple of destruction. China holds the power to be an advocate for world peace and influence mediation in the region. In the event of a conflict, the country would have to step in to attempt and maintain regional peace.

Not only the politics of East Asia would be affected, but geopolitics worldwide would experience a potential shift as a direct result of any potential conflict. It is understood that North Korea’s actions, if taken against the United States, could further provoke and ignite further tensions in the region. At the same time, China is acutely aware of the ramifications of its decision to side with either party.

Economic Considerations

It cannot be overlooked that economic implications are a main concern for China as well. China is North Korea’s largest trade partner and a decline in help from them would have a drastic effect on North Korea, leading to more political tension and worse yet, nationwide starvation. Any attempt to take a hard line against the government of North Korea could impede relations with China, further damaging its economic interests.

Taking all of this into consideration, it is difficult to predict where China’s support will lie as there are clear economic benefits to supporting North Korea and likewise, damages in opposing them. Human lives, however, must take a priority and China must take a stance on what is ironically an internal problem born out of a long standing cold war feud.

Political Dynamics

Politically, the implications of China’s decision can be far reaching. If China were to choose to side with North Korea it could potentially upset the international order and the potential of long term negotiation will be weakened. The support of China can give power to North Korea, thus making the process more difficult for the United States to achieve a consensus in the region.

China’s decision will also have to factor in the current political context as the region is becoming increasingly divided and strained. This could influence the decision
of both China and the United States in terms of military tension and the need for mutual assistance. China must assess their closest allies, as the influence of other countries could further complicate the conflict.

Social Implications

Social implications must also be taken in mind when addressing the decision of where China stands. North Korea is well known for its promotion of individuality and self-censorship, affecting the lives of millions on a daily basis. North Koreans are deprived of basic rights, and these restrictions are further sustained by its leader’s oppressive regime. With China’s support, the issue could be brought worldwide, opening the door to more debate and discussion on social issues.

China must assess the situation with an understanding of its possible outcome. China could truly become a leader in creating positive social change for human rights, however, this will only come with a significant effort. Ultimately, it is difficult to tell what will be the determining factor in the decision of whether China will side with North Korea or the United States.

Environmental Impact

The environment is rarely taken into consideration when the discussion of war arises, however, this is something that must be taken into account. A potential conflict in East Asia will not only result in civilian casualties but could also cause destruction of the environment and the environment services that we depend on.We depend on nature services for fresh water, fertile soil and timber, among many other things. War could cause destruction of these services and thus it is important that this be taken into consideration.

China’s decision to side with either North Korea or the United States should take into consideration these environmental factors and assess the greater implications that it would have. In the end, the environment can suffer from a conflict and thus it is advised that China use this as a factor when arriving at a decision.

Influence in the Region

It is quite clear that a decision by China on siding with either North Korea or the United States will have a greater sway than it may appear. In doing so, China would most likely be setting the precedent of how the two nations would proceed in the region. This would not only shape the dynamics amongst these nations but also the international relations as a whole.

China has done a phenomenal job in maintaining peace in the region and as a result, this will be a big factor in the country’s decision. While North Korea may be uncomfortable with the decision to side with China, the impact of this decision should be seen as beneficial long term. If a conflict occurs and China is on the side of the United States it could reduce the possibility of aggression from North Korea.

Cassie Grissom is an American journalist and author living in Seoul, South Korea. She has been studying the Korean peninsula since 2011, and her work focuses on understanding human rights issues in North Korea. In addition to her work as an author, Cassie is an active advocate for human rights in North Korea. She regularly shares stories about life in North Korea with international audiences to raise awareness of the plight of its citizens.

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