China–North Korea relations

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China–North Korea relations
Map indicating locations of People's Republic of China and North Korea


North Korea

China–North Korea relations are bilateral between the People's Republic of China (PRC) and the Democratic People's Republic of Korea (DPRK or North Korea).

China and North Korea have, in the past, enjoyed close diplomatic relations. However, in recent years there has been growing concern in China over issues such as North Korea's nuclear weapons program, their sinking of the ROKS Cheonan, their impoundment of Chinese fishing boats,[1] and their bombardment of Yeonpyeong.

China maintains an embassy in the North Korean capital of Pyongyang and a consulate general in Chongjin.[2] The Embassy of North Korea in China is located in Beijing's Chaoyang District, while a consulate general is in Shenyang.[3]


Chinese volunteers crossing the Yalu River into North Korea during the Korean War

The People's Republic of China and the Democratic People's Republic of Korea exchanged diplomatic recognition on October 6, 1949.

In May 1950, Kim Il-sung secretly visited Beijing to brief Mao Zedong and the Chinese leadership on his war plans.[4] Following setbacks sustained by the Korean People's Army and the crossing of the 38th parallel by the United Nations Command, in October 1950 China entered the Korean War in support of North Korea.[5] In addition to dispatching the Chinese People's Volunteers to Korea to fight against the United Nations Command, China also received North Korean refugees and students and provided economic aid during the war.[6] Following the signing of the Korean War Armistice in 1953, China, along with members of the Eastern Bloc, provided extensive economic assistance to Pyongyang to support the reconstruction and economic development of North Korea.[7]

In 1961, the two countries signed the Sino-North Korean Mutual Aid and Cooperation Friendship Treaty, whereby China pledged to immediately render military and other assistance by all means to its ally against any outside attack.[8] This treaty was prolonged twice, in 1981 and 2001, with a validity until 2021.

Since 2003, the PRC has been a participant in six-party talks aimed at resolving the issue of North Korea's nuclear weapons programme.

On 1 January 2009, Chinese President Hu Jintao and North Korean leader Kim Jong-il exchanged greetings and declared 2009 as the "year of China–DPRK friendship", marking 60 years of diplomatic relations between the two countries.[9]

The close China-DPRK relationship is celebrated at the Mass Games in Pyongyang

The Foreign Minister of the People's Republic of China Yang Jiechi said that China "resolutely" opposes the latest nuclear test conducted by the Democratic People's Republic of Korea.[10][11] The North Korean ambassador to China, Ji Jae Ryong, was personally informed of this position on 12 February 2013 in a meeting with Yang Jiechi.[10]

On 5 May 2013, North Korea "grabbed", according to Jiang Yaxian, a Chinese government official, another Chinese fishing boat in a series of impounding Chinese fishing boats.[1] "North Korea was demanding 600,000 yuan ($97,600) for its safe return, along with its 16 crew."[1]


Chinese-North Korean border at Dandong.

China and North Korea share a 1,416-kilometer long border that corresponds broadly speaking to the course of the Yalu and Tumen rivers. The countries have six border crossings between them. In November 2003, China reportedly transferred responsibility for securing its border with North Korea from the police to its army.[12]

In the 1950s and 1960s, many ethnic Koreans in Northeast China crossed the border into North Korea to escape economic hardship and famine in China. In recent years, the flow of refugees has reversed, with a considerable number of North Koreans fleeing to China.[13] In 2006, China built a 20-kilometer long fence along its border with North Korea. It is located primarily along areas where the Yalu River dividing the two countries is narrow and the river banks low.[14] Much of China's trade with the DPRK goes through the port of Dandong on the Yalu River.[15]

In February 1997, access to foreign and Chinese travellers and tourists of the bridge over the Tumen at Wonjong-Quanhe on the DPRK–China border was allowed. This led to a phenomenal increase in cross-border traffic and business within one year; from fewer than 1,000 passengers in 1996, to over 100,000 in 1997.[16]

In May 2012, China and North Korea signed an agreement on the construction and management of the cross-border bridge between Manpo in the Jagang Province of North Korea and Jian in China.[17]

Border disputes[edit]

Secret negotiations between Beijing and Pyongyang in 1963 resulted in an agreement that seems to be no longer valid today. At the time, at the height of the Sino-Soviet standoff, China adopted a flexible position in order to break out of its international isolation and to win Kim Il-sung's regime over to its cause. In spite of the Soviets' tough stance after 1949 in the face of the territorial claims made by its neighboring countries, Premier Zhou Enlai advised the Chinese delegation to be receptive to North Korea's demands. The Chinese concessions were so significant that the local authorities in the border provinces of Jilin and Liaoning protested.[18] In 1965, in the midst of the Sino-Soviet Split, in order to punish the North Korean regime for its lack of support, China is thought to have demanded that the 160 square kilometers around Paektusan be conceded to it as compensation for the economic and military aid provided during the Korean War (1950–53).[19] Between March 1968 and March 1969, various military skirmishes took place in the Paektusan region between the North Korean and Chinese armed forces. These were consequences of the tensions caused by the Cultural Revolution and the savage criticisms made of Kim Il-sung by the Red Guards. During these years of unrest, China closed its border with its neighbor. China abandoned its claim in November 1970, in order to improve relations with Pyongyang. The abandonment of the Chinese claim was preceded by a rapprochement between Beijing and Pyongyang from the start of the 1970s. In January, both governments signed a navigation agreement on the Yalu and Tumen rivers.

Finally, in October 2000, both countries reached an agreement on the border ports and their joint management[20]

Economic relations[edit]

China permitted the Yanbian Korean Ethnic Group Autonomous Prefecture to conduct border trade with the DPRK in August 1954. A barter contract between China and the DPRK was officially signed the same year. The contract stipulates the following:

  1. The two sides shall barter in the form of mutual exchange of materials.
  2. The two sides shall settle the accounts with Chinese renminbi.
  3. The sites of barter shall be in the Chinese city of Tumen and in the Korean cities of Namyang, Hoeryeong, Khyongwon and Musan.

In the 1950s, border trade between China and DPRK reached as high as 7.56 million renminbi. The DPRK received grain, textiles, clothing, paper, soap and other goods in exchange for seafood and apples. In the 1960s, the two sides continued to trade but accounts were settled in Soviet rubles rather than Chinese renminbi. Trade volume from 1960 to 1961 was 2.61 million rubles and from 1962 to 1969, 8.23 million rubles. Then trade was suspended due to the cultural revolution until a new contract was signed in 1982 between China and the DPRK, which set the Swiss franc as the exchange currency. Since then, China-DPRK border trade has increased rapidly with the trade between Jilin Province and the DPRK alone reaching 1.03 million Swiss francs (510 thousand USD).[21] Trade volume amounted to 11.99 million Swiss francs (CHF) in 1983 (5.71M USD), CHF 100 million in 1985 (40.70 million USD), CHF 160 million in 1988 (109.34 million USD), and CHF 150 million (88.2 million USD)[21] in 1990. China expanded the former three border trade areas to 13 and the DPRK from 3 to 6 areas.[22] China's economic assistance to North Korea accounts for about half of all Chinese foreign aid. Beijing provides the aid directly to Pyongyang, thereby enabling it to bypass the United Nations.

During the period of severe food shortage between 1996 and 1998, Beijing provided a huge amount of food aid to the North without any conditions and relaxed its tight control on border areas so that North Korean refugees could conduct underground transactions for getting food from the ethnic Koreans living in that area and return to North Korea to feed their families. According to international human right groups, more than 300,000 North Korean refugees have crossed the border, involved in illicit or underground trade activities, and got married to ethnic Koreans and local Chinese during this period.[23]


Trucks queued waiting for the border crossing between Quanhe and Wonjong to open.

China is North Korea's largest trade partner, while North Korea ranked 82nd on the list of China's trade partners (2009 est.) China provides about half of all North Korean imports and received a quarter of its exports. China's major imports from North Korea include mineral fuels (coal), ores, woven apparel, iron and steel, fish and seafood, and stone. North Korea's imports from China include mineral fuels and oil, machinery, electrical machinery, vehicles, plastic, and iron and steel. China is a major source for North Korean imports of petroleum. In 2009, exports to the DPRK of mineral fuel oil totaled $327 million and accounted for 17% of all Chinese exports to the DPRK.

Year 1995 1996 1997 1998 1999 2000 2001 2002 2003 2004 2005 2006 2007 2008 2009
Trade turnover (million$) 549.646 565.652 656.021 407.750 370.356 488.053 737.457 738.172 1,023.541 1,376.718 1,581.234 1,699.604 1,973.974 2,787.278 2,680.767


By 2011 trade had increased to $5.6 billion (₩5.04 trillion).[25] Trade with China represents 57% of North Korea's imports and 42% of its exports. Chinese statistics for 2013 indicate that North Korean exports to China were nearly $3 billion, with imports of about $3.6 billion.[26]


On 7 May 2013, Bank of China, China's biggest foreign exchange bank, and other Chinese banks shut the account of North Korea's main foreign exchange bank.[27]


In 2012, a $45 million investment by China's Haicheng Xiyang Group into an iron-ore powder processing plant failed under what the Chinese called "a nightmare".[28]

Military relations[edit]

Chinese soldiers at the Battle of Triangle Hill in 1952, during the Korean War.

During the Korean War from 1950–53, China assisted North Korea, sending as many as 3 million soldiers,[29] known as the People's Volunteer Army, to support North Korean forces fighting the South Korean and UN on the Korean peninsula. As many as 180,000 Chinese soldiers were killed.[29]

Since the end of the Korean conflict, the two states have closely cooperated in security and defense issues. In 1975, Kim Il-sung visited Beijing in a failed attempt to solicit support from China for a military invasion of South Korea.[30] On 23 November 2009, Chinese Defense Minister Liang Guanglie visited Pyongyang, the first defense chief to visit since 2006.[31]

See also[edit]

Notes and references[edit]

  1. ^ a b c Jourdan, Adam (19 May 2013). "China seeks release of fishing boat seized by North Korea". Reurters. Retrieved 19 May 2013. 
  2. ^ Embassy of People's Republic of China in the Democratic People's Republic of Korea
  3. ^ "Embassy & Consulate of D.P.R.K. (North Korea) in China," Travel China Guide.
  4. ^ Kathryn Weathersby, "New Russian Documents on the Korean War," Cold War International History Project Bulletin 6/7 (Winter 1995): 40-84.
  5. ^ "Q&A: China-North Korea Relationship", New York Times, 13 July 2006.
  6. ^ Adam Cathcart and Charles Kraus, "The Bonds of Brotherhood: New Evidence on Sino-North Korean Exchanges, 1950-1954," Journal of Cold War Studies 13, no. 3 (2011): 27-51.
  7. ^ Zhihua Shen and Yafeng Xia (2012), "China and the Postwar Reconstruction of North Korea, 1953-1961," NKIDP Working Paper #4.
  8. ^ Treaty of Friendship, Co-operation and Mutual Assistance between the People's Republic of China and the Democrati People's Republic of Korea, 11 July 1967: Article II: In the event of one of the Contracting Parties being subjected to the armed attack by any state or several states jointly and thus being involved in a state of war, the other Contracting Party shall immediately render military and other assistance by all means at its disposal. (一旦缔约一方受到任何一个国家的或者几个国家联合的武装进攻,因而处于战争状态时,缔约另一方应立即尽其全力给予军事及其他援助。)
  9. ^ Xinhua, “Chinese, DPRK leaders exchange congratulatory messages on the launch of friendship year”, 1 January 2009.
  10. ^ a b Xu Weiwei (February 13, 2013). "China "firmly" opposes North Korea's nuclear test". The Morning Whistle. Retrieved 2 April 2013. 
  11. ^ "China opposes DPRK's nuclear test". 
  12. ^ Foley, James. “China Steps Up Security on North Korean Border”, Jane's Intelligence Review, 1 November 2003.
  13. ^ Hazel Smith (2012), "Explaining North Korean Migration to China," NKIDP e-Dossier no. 11.
  14. ^ “China Erects Massive Fence on N. Korean Border After Test”, World, 25 October 2006. Schafer, Sarah. “Threatening the Whole World, on China’s Border with North Korea, Local Villagers Fear the Fallout from Pyongyang’s Nuclear Aspirations”, Newsweek, 12 October 2006 (Internet edition)
  15. ^ Lee, Chang-hak. “China’s Trade with N.K. Via Dandong Exceeds US $200 million”, KOTRA, 21 February 2003.
  16. ^ Regional CO-Operation in Northeast Asia The Tumen River Area Development Program, 1990-2000: In Search of a model for regional economic co-operation in Northeast Asia.
  17. ^ "Sino-North Korean Bridge Deal Sealed", Daily NK, 11 May 2012.
  18. ^ Chae-Jin Lee, China and Korea: Dynamic Relations, Stanford, The Hoover Institution for War, Revolution and Peace, Stanford University, 1996, pp. 99–100.
  19. ^ Chin O. Chung, Pyongyang Between Peking and Moscow: North Korea’s Involvement in the Sino-Soviet Dispute, 1958-1975, The University of Alabama Press, 1978, p. 120.
  20. ^ Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the People's Republic of China, Beijing, 18 November 2000.[citation needed]
  21. ^ a b "Foreign Currency Units Per 1 U.S. Dollar, 1948-2007", Werner Antweiler, University of British Columbia, 2007.
  22. ^ Economic and Social Implications Of China-DPRK Border trade for China's Northeast.
  23. ^ Scott Snyder, “China’s Evolving Economic and Political Relations with North Korea,” in China’s Rise and the Two Koreas (Lynne Rienner Publishers, Inc.: Colorado, USA, 2009), 118-121.
  24. ^ Ministry of Commerce of the People's Republic of China
  25. ^ "N. Korea's China trade nearly triples in 4 years". China Post. 2012-12-28. Retrieved 2014-01-07. 
  26. ^ Aidan Foster-Carter (20 February 2014). "South Korea has lost the North to China". Financial Times. Retrieved 1 April 2014. 
  27. ^ "Bank of China Closes Account of Key North Korean Bank". Reuters. Retrieved 9 May 2013. 
  28. ^ "North Korea Blasts Chinese Company in Failed Deal". REUTERS. September 5, 2012. Retrieved 16 January 2014. 
  29. ^ a b "180,000 Chinese soldiers killed in Korean War". China Daily. 28 June 2010. Retrieved 5 April 2013. 
  30. ^ "East German Documents on Kim Il Sung's April 1975 Trip to Beijing", NKIDP e-Dossier No. 7, May 2012.
  31. ^ Associated Press, “China’s Defense Minister Travels to North Korea”, The China Post, 23 November 2009.

External links[edit]