Changes in regional politics around the North Korea issue, including growing speculation about a preemptive U.S. strike on North Korea and a warming in North-South relations ahead of the PyeongChang Olympics have generated new debates in China on its North Korea policy. In part one of this two-part podcast, Paul Haenle sat down with Jia Qingguo, Dean of the School of International Studies at Peking University, to discuss recent shifts in regional geopolitics, debates around Chinese leverage over North Korea, and developments that could lead to greater U.S.-China cooperation to resolve the issue.
Jia said China’s primary objectives towards North Korea are its denuclearization and integration into the international system. China is taking a two-pronged approach to accomplish this: increasing economic sanctions while encouraging North Korea to return to the negotiating table. As the primary supplier of strategic resources like oil, China has significant leverage over North Korea, but fears fully using this leverage could generate a crisis on its border and drag China into a conflict, Jia argued. Instead, China will continue to take a measured approach to sanctions and wait to see their effects on Pyongyang. Jia said Chinese special envoy and International Department Minister Song Tao’s poor reception in Pyongyang at the end of 2017 was indicative of the cooling in relations between China and North Korea, and the recent warming in North Korea and South Korea’s relations is only temporary. Jia believed South Korea hopes to use the Olympics to make progress on negotiations while North Korea sees an opportunity to buy time to further develop its nuclear weapons program. Following the Olympics, relations are likely to return to the status quo.
Paul Haenle is the director of the Carnegie–Tsinghua Center for Global Policy. Prior to joining Carnegie, he served from June 2007 to June 2009 as the director for China, Taiwan, and Mongolia Affairs on the National Security Council staffs of former presidents George W. Bush and Barack Obama.
Jia Qingguo is a professor of diplomacy and international relations and Dean of the School of International Studies at Peking University. His research interests include China-US relations and Asia-Pacific studies. He has published extensively on U.S.-China relations, relations between the Chinese mainland and Taiwan, Chinese foreign policy and Chinese politics.