Small State, Big Influence: China's North Korea Policy Dilemma
Georgetown University. School of Foreign Service
GJAA covers topics pertinent to Central, Northeast, Southeast, and South Asia, combining policy prescriptions, academic research, and pedagogical insights on Asia.This article seeks to analyze why China is reluctant to significantly change its North Korea policy, despite continued North Korean nuclear provocations that have hindered China’s own strategic and security interests. The conventional understandings of China’s desire for a strategic buffer zone, fear of refugee influx, ideological affinities with the Korean regime, and desire for trade with North Korea are insufficient explanations for China’s policy rigidity. Instead, taking literature on behaviors of small and big powers during the Cold War period as a theoretical framework, this article finds that North Korea is able to influence China’s policy options more than China is able to influence North Korea’s conduct. As a small power, North Korea can ignore its influence on international society and pursue parochial interests. On the other hand, China must consider the global implications of its policies before it reacts to North Korea’s behavior.
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