Published January 23, 2013
BEIJING – China took a step against longtime ally North Korea on Tuesday by voting in favor of a U.N. Security Council resolution condemning Pyongyang's long-range rocket launch in December. Beijing is concerned that North Korea's nuclear ambitions are destabilizing the region, but is willing to go only so far to punish its economically struggling neighbor. Here are some questions and answers about China's role:
WHY DOES CHINA SUPPORT NORTH KOREA?
Beijing fears a collapse of the North Korean regime could send a massive flow of desperate, starving refugees into northeastern China and lead to a pro-U.S. government setting up across its border. Chinese firms could lose their leading position in North Korea, while South Korean investment in China would be diverted to help rebuild the devastated North's economy.
WHAT ABOUT NORTH KOREA'S MISSILES AND NUCLEAR PROGRAM?
China wants a stable, peaceful Northeast Asia and doesn't want the North to provoke retaliation from the South, Japan or the United States. China calls for denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula, though Beijing's leaders are seen as resigned to the North possessing some sort of atomic weapon.
WHAT APPROACH DOES BEIJING RECOMMEND?
China typically calls for dialogue instead of sanctions, and has hosted successive rounds of talks also involving the two Koreas, Japan, Russia, and the U.S. Pyongyang agreed at the six-nation talks to end its nuclear programs, but discussions broke down over how to verify that.
SO WHY DID CHINA VOTE FOR THE NEW U.N. RESOLUTION?
China wants to register its displeasure with Pyongyang's missile launch and doesn't wish to be seen as obstructing the U.N.'s work. At the same time, it has pushed for a watered-down response, agreeing to strengthen existing sanctions while opposing substantially new ones. Beijing also wants to appear cooperative with the second Obama administration.
HOW MUCH INFLUENCE DOES BEIJING HAVE WITH PYONGYANG?
Hard to say. Chinese scholars and officials say not as much as the outside world thinks, and that sanctions have little effect on Pyongyang. That's despite China being the North's most important political ally, as well as its biggest source of food and fuel aid to prevent total economic collapse. China's overriding fear of the North becoming a failed state severely limits Beijing's options.
WHAT'S THE HISTORY BETWEEN THESE TWO?
Chinese troops fought on behalf of the North Korean regime in the 1950-53 Korean War and relations between the communist neighbors were long described as being "as close as lips and teeth."