Issue Brief on “Managing the North Korean Nuclear Crisis”

The role of China in the on-going showdown between North Korea (DPRK) and the United States (US) has become more critical than ever. Unpredictable and inexperienced leadership in Pyongyang and Washington, D.C. mean that to maintain peace and tranquility, Beijing will assume the role of a crisis manager. China is a neighbor of the Hermit Kingdom, its main trading partner and fuel supplier, thus, it wields unique influence on DPRK regime. Washington has publicly asked Beijing to exert pressure, diplomatically or economically, on Pyongyang to abandon its nuclear weapons and ballistic missile programs.

China has, so far, advised restraint. China has traditionally viewed North Korea as a buffer state to check US military presence on the peninsula. It provided economic assistance to prevent a domestic implosion. Chinese leadership, for years, have feared that a crumbling DPRK will trigger instability in northeastern China, as millions of refugees will attempt to cross the border. China always stopped short of supporting crippling economic sanctions against North Korea, until now.[1]

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