The Big Ideas

'China’s Dangerous Double Game in North Korea'

Foreign Affairs

Oriana Maestro | Stanford University
'China’s Dangerous Double Game in North Korea'
'China’s Dangerous Double Game in North Korea'
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April 2, 2021
BIG IDEA | ‘Beijing’s North Korea policy is primarily motivated by a desire to counter U.S. power in the Asia-Pacific region and increase Chinese influence on the Korean Peninsula.
‘Beijing has demonstrated for almost three decades where its self-interest really lies, and that is in maintaining the status quo.’
Ever wonder why, if Beijing has so much influence over Pyongyang, it hasn’t made progress in helping the U.S. with North Korean denuclearization. One of our top experts gives the answer.

‘Beijing has demonstrated for almost three decades where its self-interest really lies, and that is in maintaining the status quo.’

‘China’s North Korea policy is therefore an elaborate balancing act. Through it, Beijing seeks to:’

  • ‘maintain influence over the regime of Kim Jong Un without emboldening it; participate in multilateral efforts to pressure North Korea, such as the UN sanctions program, without exposing Pyongyang to pressure that could precipitate regime collapse; and’
  • ‘offer the United States just enough hope for a diplomatic solution to forestall military intervention while simultaneously ensuring that any resolution contributes to China’s relative power, not that of the United States.’

‘Beijing’s North Korea policy is primarily motivated by a desire to counter U.S. power in the Asia-Pacific region and increase Chinese influence on the Korean Peninsula.’

‘If the Biden administration really wants to move the needle on North Korea, it will need to rethink the assumptions it has inherited about China’s role there.’

  • ‘So far, the Biden team has cleaved to the long-held view that the United States and China share a common interest in the nuclear disarmament of North Korea and that U.S. policy there must make use of Beijing’s tremendous influence over the government in Pyongyang.’
  • ‘Biden’s new approach to North Korea must force China to tip its carefully constructed balance toward either complete cooperation or obvious obstruction.'