China has joined the chorus of international condemnation of North Korea’s apparently successful nuclear weapons test. But its strategic interests in North Korea remain at odds with those of key regional powers and the United States, argues Dr. Benjamin Herscovitch, a Wikistrat Senior Analyst.
For China, the worst-case scenario is not a nuclearized Korean Peninsula. Rather, Beijing fears the collapse of the Pyongyang regime and the instability on China’s border that such political change could unleash.
Moreover, the absorption of North Korean territory into a pro-U.S. reunified Korea would be seen by China as a strategic disaster.
Of course, Beijing would prefer that Pyongyang did not conduct provocative and destabilizing nuclear weapons tests. Nevertheless, if tests of this kind secure the regime’s ongoing survival, they may well be a net strategic benefit for China.
The international community should therefore not expect China to significantly increase its pressure on North Korea in the wake of the latest test. Not only is Beijing’s diplomatic leverage over Pyongyang likely limited; it remains unclear if China would actually welcome North Korea’s abandonment of its nuclear weapons program.