China continues being one of the most powerful allies of the North Korean regime. However, the nation would not want North Korea to be a nuclear state. Here’s why.
The North Korean nuclear program has been a source of concern for the US and the international community for decades. In July 2017, North Korea successfully test launched two intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBM).
After North Korea test launched a second ICBM, the UN Security Council unanimously imposed fresh sanctions on the country. These sanctions can significantly hurt North Korea’s $3 billion annual export revenue.
In September 2017, after North Korea conducted its sixth nuclear test, the UN voted to issue another round of sanctions. There is now a ban on textile exports and a call to reduce oil imports by 30%. There is also a ban on hiring North Korean workers overseas. There are currently 100,000 North Koreans employed outside of the country. However, the US, which wanted harsher sanctions, had to provide key concessions to China and Russia. US had originally proposed an embargo on refined petroleum exports to North Korea which was overridden by the two nations.
Economically, China is North Korea’s most important political ally. It is North Korea’s largest trade partner. Trade with China represents 57% of North Korea's imports and 42% of its exports.
China has found itself in a precarious situation in the recent months. There have been growing calls from the international community, especially from the US, for it to counter North Korea. However, it can’t openly denounce the other Leninist state in the region.
Even though, China has shielded North Korea from the harshest sanctions proposed by the US, it also can’t afford for North Korea to become a nuclear state. The primary reason behind this could be the obvious concern for safety. The last time North Korea conducted a nuclear test, it triggered an artificial earthquake that caused minor tremors in China as well. North Korea, which is perceived as a highly unstable regime, cannot be trusted with nuclear weaponry. If relations between the two nations were to even run sour, then this would directly pose a threat to China. Additionally, this would also mean that China would not be able to control or even influence North Korean actions. In the event of any nuclear accident in North Korea, then a leak would compromise the lives of those living in China as well.
Another reason why China would not want North Korea to become a nuclear state is because it is a signatory of the Non Proliferation Treaty. Yue Gang, a retired Chinese colonel and military expert was quoted by SCMP as noting, “If other emerging nuclear powers such as India, Pakistan and Israel have yet to be accepted as nuclear weapon states under the NPT regime, why should North Korea be an exceptional case?”
Our assessment is that China would continue to push for diplomatic discussions between the US and North Korea. China would not want to push North Korea to the brink of no return as that would comprise the stability of the whole region.