People's Republic of China–North Korea relations

People's Republic of China–North Korea relations
Sino-North Korean relations
Map indicating locations of People's Republic of China and North Korea


North Korea

Sino–North Korean relations are bilateral between the People's Republic of China and the Democratic People's Republic of Korea ("North Korea").

China and North Korea have historically enjoyed close diplomatic relations. However, in recent years there has been growing concern in China over issues such as North Korea's nuclear weapons program, their alleged sinking of the ROKS Cheonan and their bombardment of Yeonpyeong. After North Korea conducted its first nuclear test in 2006, the Chinese government stated that they were "resolutely opposed to it" and voted for United Nations sanctions on North Korea.[1]

In November 2010, The Guardian published details of Chinese communications to the United States in which North Korea was referred to as a "spoiled child" and their nuclear program as "a threat to the whole world's security".[2] The cables also alleged that there is growing support amongst Chinese officials for Korean reunification under the South's control.[3]

The Council on Foreign Relations suggests that China's main priority in its bilateral relations with the DPRK is to prevent the collapse of Kim Jong-il's government, concerned that such an event would provoke a surge of North Korean refugees into China. It also suggests, however, that Chinese-DPRK relations may be soured due to China's concerns about Japan's remilitarization in response to North Korea's military behaviour.[4]



In 1950, China entered the Korean War in support of North Korea.[5]

In 1961, the two countries signed the Sino-North Korean Mutual Aid and Cooperation Friendship Treaty, whereby China pledged to immediately render military and other assistance by all means to its ally against any outside attack.[6] This treaty was prolonged twice, in 1981 and 2001, with a validity till 2021.

Since 2003, the PRC has been a participant in the six-party talks aimed at resolving the issue of North Korea's nuclear weapons programme.

In 2006, when the DPRK test-fired a series of ballistic missiles after China had urged it not to do so, Chinese authorities publicly rebuked their neighbour,[7] and supported the UN Security Council Resolution 1718, which imposed sanctions on North Korea. At other times, however, China has blocked United Nations resolutions threatening sanctions against North Korea.[8]

On 28 November 2010, as part of the United States diplomatic cables leak, The Guardian published details of communications in which Chinese officials referred to North Korea as a "spoiled child" and its nuclear program as "a threat to the whole world's security". Two unnamed Chinese officials also allegedly told of growing support in Beijing for Korean reunification under the South's government.[2][3]


China and North Korea share a 1,416-kilometer long border that corresponds broadly speaking to the course of the Yalu and Tumen rivers. The countries have six border crossing between them. In November 2003, China reportedly transferred responsibility for securing its border with North Korea from the police to its army.[9]

In 2006, China built a 20-kilometer long fence along its border with North Korea. It is located primarily along areas where the Yalu River dividing the two countries is narrow and the river banks low.[10] Much of China’s trade with the DPRK goes through the port of Dandong on the Yalu River.[11]

In February 1997 the access to foreign and Chinese travellers and tourists of the Tumen River bridge at Wonjong-Quanhe on the DPRK-China border was allowed. This led to a phenomenal increase in cross-border traffic and business within one year, from less than 1,000 passengers in 1996 to over 100,000 in 1997.[12]

Border disputes

Secret negotiations between Peking and Pyongyang resulted in 1963 in an agreement that seems to be no longer valid today. At the time, at the height of the Sino-Soviet standoff, China adopted a flexible position in order to break out of its isolation in the Communist bloc and to win Kim Il-Sung’s regime. over to its cause. In spite of the CCP’s tough stance after 1949 in the face of the territorial claims made by its neighbouring countries, Premier Zhou Enlai advised the Chinese delegation to be receptive to North Korea’s demands. The Chinese concessions were so significant that the local authorities in the border provinces of Jilin and Liaoning protested.[13]. In 1965, in the mid of the Sino-Soviet Split, in order to punish the North Korean regime for its lack of support, China is thought to have demanded that the 160 square kilometres around Paektusan be conceded to it as compensation for the economic and military aid provided by Peking during the Korean War (1950-53)[14] Between March 1968 and March 1969, various military skirmishes took place in the Paektusan region between the North Korean and Chinese armed forces. These were consequences of the tensions caused by the Cultural Revolution and the savage criticisms made of Kim Il-Sung by the Red Guards. During these years of unrest, Peking closed its border with its neighbour. China abandoned its claim in November 1970 in order to improve relations with Pyongyang.[15]

Finally, in October 2000, both countries reached an agreement on the border ports and their joint management[16]

Economic relations

China permitted the Yanbian Korean Ethnic Group Autonomous Prefecture to conduct border trade with the DPRK in August 1954. A barter contract between China and the DPRK was officially signed the same year. The contract stipulates the following:

  1. The two sides shall barter in the form of mutual exchange of materials.
  2. The two sides shall settle the accounts with Chinese renminbi.
  3. The sites of barter shall be in the Chinese city of Tumen and in the Korean cities of Namyang, Hoeryeong, Khyongwon, and Musan.

In the 1950s border trade between China and DPRK once reached as high as 7.56 million Chinese renminbi. The DPRK received grain, textiles, clothing, paper, soap and other goods in exchange for seafood and apples. In the 1960s the two sides continued to trade but accounts were settled in Soviet rubles rather than Chinese renminbi. Trade volume from 1960 to 1961 was 2.61 million rubles and 8.23 million rubles from 1962 to 1969. Then trade was suspended due to the Cultural Revolution until a new contract was signed in 1982 between China and the DPRK, which set the Swiss franc as the exchange currency. Since then China-DPRK border trade has increased rapidly with the trade between Jilin Province and the DPRK alone reaching 1.03 million Swiss francs (510K USD)[17]. Trade volume amounted to 11.99 million Swiss francs (CHF) in 1983 (5.71M USD), CHF 100 million in 1985 (40.70M USD), CHF 160 million in 1988 (109.34M USD), and CHF 150 million (88.2M USD)[18] in 1990. China expanded the former three border trade areas to 13 and the DPRK from 3 to 6 areas.[19] China’s economic assistance to North Korea accounts for about half of all Chinese foreign aid. Beijing provides the aid directly to Pyongyang, thereby enabling it to bypass the United Nations.


China is North Korea largest trade partner, While North Korea ranked 82nd (in 2009) in trade partners.[20] China provides about half of all North Korean imports and received a quarter of its exports. China’s major imports from North Korea includes mineral fuels (coal), ores, woven apparel, iron and steel, fish and seafood, and stone. North Korea's imports from China includes mineral fuels and oil, machinery, electrical machinery, vehicles, plastic, and iron and steel. China is a major source for North Korean imports of petroleum. In 2009, exports to the DPRK of mineral fuel oil totaled $327 million and accounted for 17% of all Chinese exports to the DPRK.

year 1995 1996 1997 1998 1999 2000 2001 2002 2003 2004 2005 2006 20007 2008 2009
trade turnover (million$) 549.646 565.652 656.021 407.750 370.356 488.053 737.457 738.172 1,023.541 1,376.718 1,581.234 1,699.604 1,973.974 2,787.278 2,680.767


Military relations

During the Korean War of 1950-53, China assisted North Korea, sending as many as 500,000 soldiers to support North Korean forces. Since then, the two states have closely cooperated in security and defense issues. On November 23, 2009, Chinese Defense Minister Liang Guanglie visited Pyongyang, the first defense chief to visit since 2006.[22]

See also

Notes and references

  1. ^ "China resolutely opposes DPRK's nuclear test". Xinhua News Agency. Retrieved 1 December 2010. 
  2. ^ a b Tisdall, Simon. "Wikileaks cables reveal China 'ready to abandon North Korea'". The Guardian. Retrieved 1 December 2010. 
  3. ^ a b "US embassy cables: China 'would accept' Korean reunification". The Guardian. Retrieved 1 December 2010. 
  4. ^ "The China-North Korea Relationship", Council for Foreign Relations, June 18, 2008
  5. ^ "Q&A: China-North Korea Relationship", New York Times, July 13, 2006
  6. ^ Treaty of Friendship, Co-operation and Mutual Assistance between the People's Republic of China and the Democratic People's Republic of Korea, July 11, 1967: Article II: In the event of one of the Contracting Parties being subjected to the armed attack by any state or several states jointly and thus being involved in a state of war, the other Contracting Party shall immediately render military and other assistance by all means at its disposal. (一旦缔约一方受到任何一个国家的或者几个国家联合的武装进攻,因而处于战争状态时,缔约另一方应立即尽其全力给予军事及其他援助。)
  7. ^ "Q&A: China-North Korea Relationship", New York Times, July 13, 2006
  8. ^ "The China-North Korea Relationship", Council for Foreign Relations, June 18, 2008
  9. ^ Foley, James. “China Steps Up Security on North Korean Border,” Jane’s Intelligence Review, November 1, 2003.
  10. ^ “China Erects Massive Fence on N. Korean Border After Test,” World, October 25, 2006. Schafer, Sarah. “Threatening the Whole World, on China’s Border with North Korea, Local Villagers Fear the Fallout from Pyongyang’s Nuclear Aspirations,” Newsweek, October 12, 2006 (Internet edition)
  11. ^ Lee, Chang-hak. “China’s Trade with N.K. Via Dandong Exceeds US $200 million.” KOTRA, February 21, 2003
  12. ^ Regional CO-Operation in Northeast Asia The Tumen River Area Development Program, 1990-2000: In Search of a model for regional economic co-operation in Northeast Asia
  13. ^ Chae-Jin Lee, China and Korea: Dynamic Relations, Stanford, The Hoover Institution for War, Revolution and Peace, Stanford University, 1996, pp. 99-100
  14. ^ Chin O. Chung, Pyongyang Between Peking and Moscow: North Korea’s Involvement in the Sino-Soviet Dispute, 1958-1975, The University of Alabama Press, 1978, p. 120
  15. ^ The abandonment of the Chinese claim was preceded by a rapprochement between Peking and Pyongyang from the start of the 1970s. In January, both governments signed a navigation agreement on the Yalu and Tumen rivers
  16. ^ Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the People’s Republic of China, Peking, November 18th 2000
  17. ^ "Foreign Currency Units Per 1 U.S. Dollar, 1948-2007", Werner Antweiler, University of British Columbia, 2007
  18. ^ "Foreign Currency Units Per 1 U.S. Dollar, 1948-2007", Werner Antweiler, University of British Columbia, 2007
  19. ^ Economic and Social Implications Of China-DPRK Border trade for China's Northeast
  20. ^ China-North Korea Relations
  21. ^ Ministry of Commerce of the People's Republic of China
  22. ^ Associated Press, “China’s Defense Minister Travels to North Korea,” The China Post, November 23, 2009

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