China’s Strategic Calculus in North Korea

Wikistrat - China's Strategic Calculus in North Korea report

Earlier this month, North Korea conducted its fourth-ever nuclear weapons test — the second since Kim Jong-Un took power. The underground detonation of what is estimated to have been a 10 kiloton nuclear weapon — smaller than the atomic bombs dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki — was met with widespread international criticism, including from China.

Echoing language used in response to previous tests, the Foreign Ministry issued a written statement expressing “resolute opposition” and calling on Pyongyang to “honor its denuclearization pledges.” Moreover, China looks set to join the other permanent members of the U.N. Security Council to back an additional resolution against North Korea.

Still, there is widespread disappointment in the international community that Beijing does not do more to persuade Pyongyang to abandon its nuclear weapons program.

In this report, Wikistrat’s Dr. Benjamin Herscovitch argues that China has conflicting imperatives.

On the one hand, China worries that North Korea’s behavior will drive Japan and South Korea to call for a greater U.S. military presence in North Asia — and that the two will bolster their own defenses as well.

On the other, China’s worst-case scenario is not a nuclearized Korean Peninsula but rather the collapse or removal of the North Korean regime. In such an event, China would have on its border a politically and socially unstable and highly militarized nation of roughly 25 million.

Even worse, in the event of the absorption of North Korean territory into a reunified Korea, China would face the prospect of bordering a U.S.-aligned nation in which tens of thousands of U.S. troops are stationed. Both of these scenarios would be seen by Beijing as strategic disasters.

Thus, the rest of the world should not count on China to rein in North Korea’s nuclear program.

Click here or on the cover image to download the report.


Benjamin Herscovitch

Click here to see a video in which Dr. Herscovitch summarizes the report and explains why China’s strategic interests in North Korea remain at odds with those of key regional powers and the United States.

Visit’s Wikistrat’s YouTube channel for more insights from analysts and Wikistrat’s crowdsourced simulations.

About the author

Benjamin Herscovitch

Dr. Benjamin Herscovitch
Wikistrat Senior Analyst
Research Manager at China Policy

For more information about Wikistrat and our services, please contact [email protected] or click here.

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