Weekly Geopolitical Report – North Korea and China: A Difficult History, Part I (October 16, 2017)

by Bill O’Grady

The U.S. and North Korea have had a difficult history.  The two countries were the primary combatants during the Korean War and still have not established a peace treaty.  However, in the late 1970s, the Kim regime and the Carter administration considered normalizing relations.  Carter’s national security team concluded there was little value in talking directly to North Korea[1] and, ever since, the U.S. has essentially “outsourced” North Korea to China.[2]

On its face, this decision makes sense.  China is critically important to North Korea’s economy; more than 80% of North Korea’s foreign trade is with China.  Mao described relations between the two countries as “close as lips and teeth.”  However, relations are more than just economics.  A review of historical relations between China and North Korea indicates a deep animosity that inhibits China’s ability to control the policies and decisions in Pyongyang.

In Part I of this report, we will begin our study of the historical relationship between North Korea and China, including a review of the Minsaengdan Incident and a broad examination of the Korean War.  Part II will complete the analysis of the war, discuss the Kim regime’s autarkic policy of Juche and outline the impact of the Cultural Revolution on North Korean/Chinese relations.  Part III will cover the controversy surrounding North Korea’s Dynastic Succession, the end of the Cold War and the ideological issues with Deng Xiaoping.  Finally, we will recap this history and its impact on American policy toward the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK) along with market ramifications.

View the full report

[1] Carter was worried about being seen as weak by GOP critics.  Creekmore, M., Jr. (2006). A Moment of Crisis: Jimmy Carter, The Power of a Peacemaker, and North Korea’s Nuclear Ambitions (chapter 7). New York, NY: Perseus Books Group.

[2] http://www.38north.org/2017/09/jperson092617/ This report borrows heavily from Mr. Person’s analysis and his reference material.