Strange Bed Fellows

Published on Author kavanaght16

China’s longtime allegiance with North Korea has long been a cause for concern for many in the international community. Despite the negative international opinion of China for this allegiance, they recently reaffirmed their support for the North Korea dictatorship. A recent UN report condemned the numerous human right violations occurring within North Korea’s borders. China came out in defense of their longtime ally criticizing the report of being “divorced from reality”.

While many are concerned with China’s assistance of a brutal, authoritarian government, the economic ramifications of the partnership provide a more interesting story.  North Korea struggles to maintain an economy sufficiently large to support its own people, let alone provide any economic gain to China. The economic partnership between the two nations resembles a one-way weigh street, with an influx of Chinese aid flowing into North Korea. Therefore, China must be weighing the economic cost of the partnership with the positive externalities. Mainly, through their allegiance with one of the only other nuclear powers in the region, China has greatly increased their security. Additionally, China has succeeded in extending its sphere of influence into one of the most isolated nations in the world. This emphasizes that countries must often make economically irrational decisions for the good of the country.

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4 Responses to Strange Bed Fellows

  1. China’s assistance to North Korea and support for the country’s governance despite of a history of human right’s abuses shows how China plays the international game. It is easy for the US or Europe to condemn North Korea being thousands of miles away but China’s proximity to North Korea means that it does not pay to make an enemy out of an irrational neighbor. Moreover friendship with North Korea is always a useful diplomatic tool when dealing with the West.

  2. To me it seems that “economically irrational” and “for the good of the country” is an oxymoron. How is it good for the country if it is bad economically? Remember, economics takes into account risks, the costs and benefits of national security, etc.

    Regardless, if we asked Robert Kaplan, he would tell us that Korea cannot remain divided indefinitely. At some point in the near future, the peninsula will be reunited–hopefully without too large a death-toll–this is what he means by the “revenge of geography.” Will a united Korea align itself with China? It seems likely, given the nation’s historical animosity towards Japan, and its geographical distance from the US. Thoughts?

    • Great point Asher. I had not fully concerned that China is simply considering the benefit to national security of the partnership vs the monetary cost of the continued alligance with North Korea. I mistakenly used the term “economically irrational” to point out the imbalance in flow of Chinese money and resources into North Korea, with little return. However, the economic decision making does provide us with a unique glimpse into the Chinese government. Using your argument of geographic security, China’s aid to North Korea can be seen as the quantifiable price they are willing to pay for security.

  3. CNN’s story is simplistic. North Korea was long more prosperous than the South, but the end of the Soviet Union and shifting oil prices led to a cutoff of subsidized energy which caused the NK economy to collapse, as also happened to Cuba. So NK problems are because China refuses to subsidize them.
    What happens however if NK collapses? First, there are already many NK refugees in China, as the border region is populated by ethnic Koreans. (I met illegal Chinese Koreans in Seoul … good wages relative to back home in Manchuria!) The porous border – in contrast to the mountainous and heavily land-mined border with South Korea – means refugees would flow north, not south. Then there’s the perceived “Real Politik” benefit of a divided Korea (whether such perceptions are accurate is irrelevant).
    It is not clear that China has any leverage against the North – again, the earlier cutoff of cheap energy didn’t lead to a collapse, but rather to a more visiously repressive regime that allowed 10% of its population to die of malnutrition. I have it on good authority that the Chinese have very little inside information on the politics of the North (nor does anyone else); very few Chinese “diplomats” are permitted in the country, and primitive communications infrastructure means SigInt yields little. China had little knowledge of and no ability to stop NK from gaining basic nuclear technology; they gain nothing from it. Nor has NK otherwise served as an ally to China – and that’s not just recently, NK invaded the South in June 1950 without consulting their erstwhile ally.