China-North Korea Relations Leading up to the most recent Human Rights reports
History of Relationship • Exchanged diplomatic recognition in October 6, 1949. • China supported North Korea in the Korean War by receiving refugees, dispatching combat volunteers, and providing economic aid. • In 1961, the two countries signed the Sino-North Korean Mutual Aid and Cooperation Friendship Treaty. • Treaty renewed in 1981 and 2001, now valid until 2021. • China has been backing North Korea politically and economically since Kim Il-Sung’s regime who lived from 1912 to 1994.
Recent Relations • China is North Korea’s most important ally, biggest trading partner, and primary source for food, arms and fuel. • Bilateral trade was estimated at $6 billion in 2011. • Estimates also claim that China provides 90% of North Korea’s energy imports, 80% of North Korea’s consumer goods, and 45% of its food. • However, there is speculation that China’s patience has begun to grow thin due to egregious behavior by the North Korean State.
North Korean Nuclear Tests In reaction to nuclear tests by North Korea in October 2006 China agreed to UN Security Council Resolution 1718, which imposed sanctions of Pyongyang, the capitol of North Korea. In May 2009 North Korea tested nuclear weapons again, and received a reaction of stricter sanctions from the UN and China. In January 2013, North Korea threatened another nuclear test that was to be “aimed at the United States”, and this, too, received a negative response from Beijing.
Sinking of the South Korean Ship Cheonan On March 26, 2010 the South Korean ship Cheonan sank off the nation’s west coast. Multilateral investigations put on by the U.K., Canada, Australia, the U.S. and Sweden concluding that a North Korean torpedo had sunk the ship killing 46 sailors. China denied the report as credible amidst strong tensions. The UN Security Council condemned the attacks but did not explicitly identify an attacker.
Artillery contact in Yeonpyeong An artillery engagement took place between North Korean and South Korean military forces on Yeongpyeong Island on November, 23 2010. Both claimed that the opposite side was instigator Killed 4, injured 19. The UN declared the incident one of the most serious since the end of the Korean War. China said that both sides should “do things conducive to peace and stability in the Korean Peninsula,” but did not explicitly condemn the attacks.
Border Relationship North Korea provides a buffer between China and democratic South Korea, which is home to about 29,000 U.S. troops. However, hundreds of thousands of North Korean refugees spill across the 800-mile border into China that the two nations share. It is believed that China greatly fears a regime collapse in North Korea that would consequently create a huge influx of refugees as a result from unrecoverable chaos in North Korea.
UN Human Rights Report Released in February 2014 UN investigators alleged systematic torture, starvation, killings comparable to Nazi-era atrocities, and other human rights violations in North Korea. The yearlong investigation involved more than 320 witnesses in public hearings and interviews from those such as escapees and former prison guards. Accounts included alleged atrocities such as a new mother being forced to drown her newborn, rampant beatings, and corpses being eaten by dogs and rats. Michael Kirby, Chairperson of the Commission of Inquiry on Human Rights in North Korea, holds a copy of his report during a news conference in 2014
Drawings by former North Korean prisioner Kim Kwang-Il detailing torture methods Warning: Graphic
Chinese Implication and Reaction The UN investigators told China that it might be “aiding and abetting crimes against humanity” by sending migrants and defectors back to North Korea to face torture or execution. China rebuked the report claiming that it was “divorced from reality” and “highly politicized.” They cited the fact that UN investigators were not able to get any first-hand evidence (this was due to North Korea’s refusal to allow the investigators into the country), and that the fact that the UN was unable to get cooperation from North Korea put the credibility of the report into question. However, China made no comment about their veto capacity as a member of the UN Security Council to potentially block international interference on the matter. China’s United Nations Permanent Representative Liu Jieyi
What might happen next? The UN could propose stricter sanctions and even physical intervention for North Korea. However, China holds veto power as a permanent member of the UN Security Council. Historically, such heinous human rights violations warrant multilateral international intervention, but the situation in this region of the world is likely too sensitive for any serious action from external political actors. China may be tired of North Korean’s staunch neorealism, nuclear brinkmanship, and their provocative behavior, but their relationship is believed to be too important to Beijing because of the geopolitical advantage it provides. There is even speculation that China has response protocols that would include dispatching troops to occupy North Korea if the country were to become unstable.
Works Cited • Balibouse, Denis. “China rejects U.N. criticism in North Korea report, no comment on veto.” Feb. 18, 2014. Reuters U.S. Web. Accessed 4/22/14. http://www.reuters.com/article/2014/02/18/us-china-korea-north-idUSBREA1H0E220140218 • Euronews. “China slams “inaccurate” UN human rights report on North Korea.” Mar. 17, 2014. Web. Accessed 4/20/14. http://www.euronews.com/2014/03/17/china-criticises-un-report-on-north-korea-saying-it-is-inaccurate/ • Park, Madison. “China, North Korea slam UN human rights report as ‘divorced from reality.’ Mar. 18, 2014. CNN. Web. Accessed 4/20/14. http://edition.cnn.com/2014/03/18/world/asia/north-korea-human-rights-response/index.html • Patience, Martin. “China’s muted response to North Korea Attack.” Nov. 24, 2010. BBC News. Web. Accessed 4/22/2014. http://www.bbc.com/news/world-asia-pacific-11828846 • Xu, Beina and Bajoria, Jayshree. “The China-North Korea Relationship.” Feb. 18, 2014. Council on Foreign Relations. Web. Accessed 4/21/2014. http://www.cfr.org/china/china-north-korea-relationship/p11097