North Korea’s Missile Addiction: The controversial sparks explained

North Korea has long been noteworthy for its “remarkable” dictatorship, but it proved to truly be a force to be reckoned with, when it fired at least six test missiles in 2006. Since then, North Korea has boasted their nuclear power from flaunting missiles during the Day of the Sun, to launching a new type of missile on July 4, 2017.

President Trump took to Twitter to voice his ire (per usual) but this time, North Korea wasn’t his only target. Let’s step back a bit on the timeline on his Twitter rants:

North Korea just stated that it is in the final stages of developing a nuclear weapon capable of reaching parts of the U.S. It won’t happen!

— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) January 2, 2017

 Really? North Korea missile ‘could reach Alaska’Seems Trump didn’t follow through.

China has been taking out massive amounts of money & wealth from the U.S. in totally one-sided trade, but won’t help with North Korea. Nice!

— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) January 3, 2017

North Korea disrespected the wishes of China & its highly respected President when it launched, though unsuccessfully, a missile today. Bad!

— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) April 29, 2017

North Korea has just launched another missile. Does this guy have anything better to do with his life? Hard to believe that South Korea…..and Japan will put up with this much longer. Perhaps China will put a heavy move on North Korea and end this nonsense once and for all!

— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) July 4, 2017

Trump has repeatedly called on China to help rein in North Korea’s addiction to missile tests and has threatened with more serious actions.


Why China?

Ever since the Korean War in the 1950s, China has given political and economic backing to North Korea and is the regime’s most prominent and biggest trade backer, with arguably the most leverage and say in what goes. In fact, China has even opposed harsh international sanctions on North Korea in fear of having the regime collapse (which is only sensible). 

But in America’s eyes, China has done little to nothing to stop North Korea’s nuclear testing. After the nuclear test in 2016, China reprimanded North Korea, calling them to not do anything to “worsen the situation”, concerned for the regime’s stability. Adding on to the concern on stability and leadership was the purge of North Korean officials and the assassination of Kim Jong-un’s half-brother, Kim Jong-nam. Yet even so, China’s policies have done little to deter its neighbor’s nuclear ambitions.

Adding on to America’s exasperation, trade between China and North Korea increased. Trade between the two countries peaked at $6.86 billion in 2014, with bilateral trade increasing tenfold in the recent years. Ties between Beijing and Pyongyang have strengthened, with economic exchanges and high-level officials visiting each other.

Trade between China and North Korea grew almost 40% in the first quarter. So much for China working with us – but we had to give it a try!

— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) July 5, 2017

So why has China been chary of isolating its neighbor?

North Korea’s stability has always been one of China’s (logical) interests as the fall of the regime would be detrimental to China economy and stability.

By supporting North Korea, that means that China now has a friend on the northeastern border, and a strong ally for defense against the nearby, democratic South – where 29,000 US troops and marines are deployed. Both have a common goal, so it is only natural that they help one another.

Chinese leaders have no love for Kim Jong-un’s regime or its nuclear weapons, but it dislikes even more the prospect of North Korea’s collapse and the unification of the Korean Peninsula with Seoul as the capital.

— Richard N. Haass (CFR President)

China has always been on the defense for North Korea, urging other countries to refrain from pushing Pyongyang to the breaking point and triggering military action from both sides.

Once a war really happens, the result will be nothing but multiple loss. No one can become a winner.

— Wang Yi (Chinese Foreign Minister) April 2017

But what troubles China even more is the prospect of North Korean refugees cascading into China, making it even more challenging for China to provide for their own people.

It’s already an issue. With Beijing promising to send North Korean fugitives back across the border, numerous human rights groups are calling them out. To tackle this, Beijing began the construction of a barbed-wire fence more than a decade ago to prevent migrants from crossing. However, the International Rescue Committee (IRC) estimates 30,000~60,000 refugees already in China; some NGOs believe more than 200,000 are living there. Many refugees attempt to flee to China before parts further into Asia, but stricter border control has turned the waterfall of fugitives and refugees into a mere trickle. 

My take on this event:

It’s possible that even without China’s backing, America and other world powers will still try to stop North Korea. However, it’s not as plausible as China has the largest impact and influence on North Korea. Hence, Trump may try to impose more sanctions on Chinese banks and companies that deal with North Korea.

In my opinion, it isn’t China’s intention to play the double-agent or take sides; it simply wants to preserve the current status quo, which is precariously hanging on a balance beam.

US and China relations are worsening – why?

The US administration is frustrated that China isn’t doing more to stop North Korea, and has retaliated by putting sanctions on a Chinese bank for “illicit” business with Pyongyang, and has already offered a $1.4 billion arms sale to Taiwan – both a move that signals their impatience with China and also a bid to directly discourage the formation of Chinese companies that would give North Korea access to the global financial system. 

China is somewhat being forced to play the double-agent, once again to preserve the status quo. In February 2017, China temporarily stopped all coal imports into North Korea. However, would this harm the economy? While exporting coal to China is a major part of North Korea’s economy, North Korea is also China’s fourth-biggest coal supplier. Nevertheless, vessels carrying coal from North Korea have been turned away at Chinese ports.

Furthermore, a newspaper in China suggested that if these nuclear tests do not stop, China may be supportive of banning oil exports to North Korea.

“If the North makes another provocative move this month, the Chinese society will be willing to see the United Nations Security Council adopt severe restrictive measures that have never been seen before, such as restricting oil exports to the North,” the paper said in an editorial.

— The Global Times, April 2017

This event only goes to show that every event, no matter big or small, has an impact on every country, and the balance of what is acceptable in international norms. So, will China’s efforts be rewarded and the status quo preserved? Or will it all go down the drain>


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