Why Korean Reunification is in China’s Strategic National Interest

Yanbian University, Yanji, China – Jamie Metzl, Vice Chair of the Board of Directors for Partnership for a Secure America (PSA), spoke at the Chinese Summit Forum on Korean Peninsula Studies. Metzl made a strong case for why it is in China’s national interest to rein in North Korea’s nuclear ambitions and, ultimately, to support the reunification of the Korean peninsula under South Korean law. 

North Korea in 2017

The Kim regime has continued to oppress its own citizens in North Korea, with a UN Commission of Inquiry calling its program of suppression a “crime against humanity.”North Korea remains closed off from the world, new ideas, and new opportunities, and continues to threaten its neighbors; occasionally launching unprovoked attacks. Recently North Korea’s rapidly developing nuclear and missile programs grabbed global attention with the successful launch of an ICBM on July 4th. As North Korea’s nuclear weapons program continues its race toward full, deliverable weaponization, it continues to sow regional instability and threatens to ignite an arms race in Asia.

The Perspective of the Kim Regime

The Kim regime views nuclear weaponization as beneficial to their prestige, leverage, and the stability of its leadership. North Korea is racing to develop deliverable nuclear weapons capability in order to prevent the type of foreign intervention experienced by Libya and Ukraine. The hyper-paranoid leadership of North Korea feels safer with nuclear weapons than without them, and has a long history of non-compliance with arms reduction agreements. The only way North Korea will give up its nuclear weapons is if its leaders come to believe the cost of maintaining nuclear weapons is greater than the cost of giving them up.

China’s Relationship with North Korea

China and North Korea have a historic and strategic relationship; the Kim regime provides China with a buffer between itself and US-allied South Korea, as well as a source of cheap resources and labor. China helps to keep the North Korean economy afloat by providing energy, access to trade, and financial services – without Chinese intervention the North Korean state would never have existed, and would crumble quickly. Despite its reliance on Beijing’s support North Korea is becoming increasingly hostile to China, and North Korea’s actions justify our military presence in the region. Chinese leaders are faced with a binary choice; to continue their current path of expressing displeasure without applying sufficient pressure, or to do what it takes to force the North Korean leadership to either give up their nuclear weapons or face regime destabilization and collapse. 

Jamie Metzl serves as vice-chair of Partnership for a Secure America’s Board of Directors. Mr. Metzl is also a senior fellow of the Atlantic Council, and has served on the U.S. National Security Council, State Department and Senate Foreign Relations Committee and with the United Nations in Cambodia.