One has to delve into the history of the Korean war to understand the unique relationship between China and the dystopian nation we recognise as North Korea.
After the US and South Korean forces had retaken Seoul and the rest of the territory taken by Kim Il Sung, there marked a turning point in the war. They decided to go past the north and south division in Korea and invade the communists in the north, and ended up taking the North Korean capital of Pyongyang in October 20th 1950. Had things continued to go this way, it seems likely that Kim Il Sung would have been defeated and the political map of the Korean Peninsular would look very different today.
However, with the prospect of American troops advancing further north, closer towards the border with China, the Chinese leader Mao Zedong decided he wanted to keep the Communist-hating Americans away from his own newly established regime. Thus China intervened in the Korean war on the side of Kim Il Sung. The Chinese army pushed back, retook Pyongyang and the war more or less settled back onto the border that we see and recognise now as the divide between north and south.
From this very brief summary of the events we can already see that North Korea has a historic dependency on China, but that’s not the full story.
Even now, as Kim Jong Un (pictured below), Kim Il Sung’s grandchild, is testing nuclear missiles, and firing prototypes over northern Japan, China dominates trade with North Korea in both exports and imports. In 2015, North Korea exported $2.83B, around 83% of which was to China, and imported around $3.47B, 85% of which was from China.
This trend has continued for many years. I implore the reader to consider why China is doing this. Is it really the case that China, the economic giant, needs to trade with North Korea for its economic benefits? Is it merely a coincidence that the regime it’s propping up, just so happens to be an aggressor towards America and Japan, two nations that China has had conflict with in the past?
The Korean war never formally concluded – it remains officially in a state of ceasefire. The events we see today are merely a continuation of a war that has been artificially sustained, partly by China. Based on the image below, clearly some South Koreans also apportion responsibility for the current, increasingly tense situation at China’s door.
My argument is not that China is entirely responsible for the crisis that we see now with North Korea. However, while we condemn the North Korean regime, we should not forget the superpower lurking in the background which sustains it.