China and North Korea

February 01, 2023

“As close as lips and teeth.” So described Mao Zedong China’s relationship with North Korea, the only country with which, since 1961, China has a mutual defense treaty. But many sources of bilateral friction exist, including North Korea’s nuclear weapons program and China’s close relationship with South Korea. 

Recent regional and global developments are now causing China to adjust its policy toward North Korea. The war in Ukraine may be driving the two countries closer together, as evidenced by Beijing’s veto last May of a draft UN Security Council resolution aimed at tightening sanctions against Pyongyang. This was the first time China wielded its veto on the issue. Since 2006, the Security Council approved ten similar resolutions unanimously. Given China’s new stance, how would it respond if North Korea conducts a nuclear test in the coming months? 

To discuss China’s evolving policy, host Bonnie Glaser speaks with Yun Sun, a senior fellow and co-director of the East Asia Program, and director of the China Program, at the Stimson Center.

Episode Highlights:

[1:59] Xi’s Relationship with Kim Jong-un

[5:12] Treaty on Friendship

[9:48] Chinese Economic Assistance

[12:33] Impact of US-DPRK Negotiations

[16:02] Sino-American Divergence on North Korea

[21:05] A Seventh Nuclear Test

[25:30] South Korean Nuclear Deterrence