September 27, 2023

Threat of Finlandization by China Should Spur Korean Reunification

China is usually considered the only nation with influence in North Korea, and we have repeatedly heard that only it can moderate the North’s behavior. China, host of the Six Party Talks, and the world’s second largest economic power, allegedly understands the North Koreans better than anyone. As recently as this past March, at the nuclear summit in Seoul, President Obama asked president Hu Jintao to use all the instruments of China’s power to reign in Pyongyang. This is often referred to as outsourcing the North Korean problem to Beijing.

Yet, China has not lived up to that billing in moderating North Korean behavior. Though the North remains critically dependent on Chinese economic assistance, China’s policy toward the DPRK is evidently based on self-interest and not on the wider interests of the other members of the Six Party Talks. There are also limits to Chinese influence in the North, both self-imposed, and more importantly, beyond China’s control due to strong underlying distrust of China in the North.