North Korea’s Regional Integration: An Enduring Dilemma for China, South Korea, and the United States

North Korea’s integration into the regional community has emerged as a key point of realignment in Sino-South Korean relations since the 2016-2017 fallout over US Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD).  Presidents Xi Jinping and Moon Jae-in advanced Pyongyang’s diplomatic engagement by securing three meetings each with Kim Jong-un in 2018, complemented by a historic US-North Korea summit.  In Panmunjom, the two Korean leaders promised to push for “unification led by Koreans,” “eliminate the danger of war,” and “establish a permanent and solid peace regime.”1  Last month in Beijing, Xi and Kim pledged to “jointly advance the political settlement” of the peninsula issue in light of Pyongyang’s “new strategic line” on development.2  But while the Panmunjom Declaration projects new optimism on the peninsula, it also forces all sides to confront old dilemmas underlying the “Cold War relic of longstanding division.”    

North Korea’s regional integration can be understood from the perspective of both external structural constraints and Chinese perceptions of respective intentions.  Current diplomacy on the peninsula clearly demonstrates shared interests in avoiding the costs of confrontation after years of escalating tensions.  But despite apparent breakthroughs in high-level summitry, North Korea’s integration into the regional system remains constrained by three factors.  First, China and South Korea remain fundamentally divided in their strategic preferences.  Second, threat perceptions toward the United States remain a key impediment to resolving the DPRK nuclear issue.  Third, the competitive orientation of the US-China relationship since 2017 reinforces deep uncertainties over broader regional coordination.  The THAAD controversy underscored these challenges and left a lasting dent on mutual perceptions among China, South Korea, and the United States.  

Trump’s inauguration and the 19th Congress of the Communist Party of China (CPC) in 2017 marked major shifts in US and Chinese external strategies, presenting a new strategic environment in China’s surrounding regions.3  By the end of 2017 Chinese domestic debates concluded that US-China political relations had deteriorated to the worst levels since Nixon’s opening,4 with the THAAD dispute driving China-ROK ties to the lowest point since diplomatic normalization.5  Although PRC ambassador to South Korea Qiu Guohong expressed high hopes for regional integration at the launching of an inter-Korean railway project at the end of last year in Kaesong, the groundbreaking ceremony was only symbolic.6

This article analyzes the prospects for North Korea’s regional integration under the Xi, Moon, and Trump leaderships based on Chinese assessments of regional relations since 2017.  It addresses two main questions.  First, how do Chinese envision the Northeast Asian regional order, including alternative models of integration proposed by Seoul and Washington?  Second, why is the joint implementation of such regional projects constrained in practice?  The following section lays out Chinese perspectives on regional integration in Northeast Asia, including responses to Seoul and Washington’s strategies since 2017.  Second, I identify the constraints to North Korea’s regional integration based on Chinese views of relations with the two Koreas and the United States.  Third, I discuss how the 2016-2017 THAAD dispute solidified these constraints and widened the gap in regional perceptions.  I conclude by reconsidering the options for North Korea’s diplomacy in the midst of China, South Korea, and the United States. 

Perspectives on Northeast Asia’s regional integration

China’s post-Cold War regional diplomacy has been guided by three related goals of maintaining friendly relations with neighbors, promoting regional cooperation, and managing challenges posed by the US alliance system.7  The October 2017 CPC Congress underscored China’s regional environment as the key factor in China’s transformation from a regional power to a global power as envisioned in Xi’s “major-power diplomacy with Chinese characteristics.”8  But by the end of 2018, China’s external environment around its southern and eastern borders confronted perceived “US attempts to contain China to ensure its own hegemony in the Asia-Pacific.”9 In addition to the US security threat, China’s regional diplomacy faced resurgent forces of nationalism within neighboring states.10  China’s security and economic relations in Northeast Asia since 2017 have developed under such external and internal conditions.

Chinese assessments of the regional security environment remain largely pessimistic, identifying competition over power, preferred institutional mechanisms, and ideas as major impediments to regional community-building.11  Current tensions in East Asia can be traced to two sources of instability: the decline of US hegemony at the global level and the rise of Chinese power at the regional level.  US management of regional allies in particular has significantly undermined the stability of China’s surrounding environment as smaller regional powers have adjusted their strategic alignments in response to the competitive turn in US-China interactions.12  Both external pressure and changes in national policy choice have produced Northeast Asia’s “paradox of regionalization and security,” challenging the conventional wisdom on the security benefits of regional integration.13  From this perspective, regional integration in Northeast Asia is associated with a deterioration in the regional security environment arising from differences in perceptions of regionalization, divergent economic and security policies, and competitive politics of alignment.  In particular, the lack of regional security mechanisms heightens the risks of conflict on the Korean Peninsula, the central focus of major-power interactions in Northeast Asia.14

After 20 years of economic engagement catalyzed by the 1997 Asian financial crisis and ASEAN-centered multilateralism, pessimistic accounts of China’s regional economic relations point to the persistence of “Cold War thinking” and “zero-sum” power politics.15  Although Xi Jinping’s “One Belt, One Road (OBOR)” initiative offers a potential positive force for the development of new mechanisms of economic cooperation,16 Northeast Asia is not a major focus of the project.  OBOR’s implementation in Northeast Asia remains clearly challenged by recurring clashes over territory, history, and national identity.17  Its historical connotations of East Asia’s Sinocentric order further raise the risks of arousing regional concerns over China’s hegemonic aspirations.18 

In addition to such geopolitical obstacles, China’s integration with Russia, South Korea, Japan, and Mongolia since the 1990s has faced real economic constraints including uneven levels of development, a poor investment environment, and limited infrastructure development.19  Despite the recent expansion of trade and investment partnerships including the China-South Korea free trade agreement (FTA) and Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank (AIIB), the institutional framework for Northeast Asia’s economic integration remains underdeveloped.  While bilateral FTAs are the preferred starting point for regional multilateralism,20 limited progress in advancing the China-ROK FTA and China-Japan-South Korea trilateral process continues to place in doubt the substantive significance of East Asia’s economic agreements.  After the East Asia Summit’s failure to expand the ASEAN Plus mechanism as the core framework for regional cooperation, hopes have shifted to the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP).  But skepticism surrounds it as a one-size-fits-all solution to all members.21 

Asia-Pacific integration remains predominantly viewed through the lens of US-China relations.  The United States is the key player affecting China’s regional relations, both through “dual” strategies of containing and engaging China, and Washington’s indirect influence over neighbors and regional institutions.  Trump’s turn to trade protectionism and withdrawal from the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) were bad news overall for China’s bilateral and multilateral economic partnerships in Asia.22  For example, Washington’s “trade bullying” can be blamed for the failure of the 2018 APEC Economic Leaders’ Meeting to issue a joint declaration for the first time in its history.23  On the other hand, US retrenchment from economic multilateralism in Asia may benefit Beijing by strengthening its institutional tools of regional influence.24

Moon Jae-in’s regional strategy and Chinese responses

South Korea’s regional initiatives under the Moon Jae-in administration since 2017 are viewed with general skepticism in China.  Including the “New Economic Map for the Korean Peninsula,” “New Northern Policy,” and “New Southern Policy,” Moon’s ambitious proposals envision a “Northeast Asia Plus Community” integrating the peninsula with Russia, China, and Europe.25  For China, these initiatives offer new opportunities for inter-Korean economic integration, cooperation with Russia on developing the Russian Far East (RFE), and linkages with Beijing’s OBOR initiative.

In reality, however, Chinese see more differences than areas of convergence between OBOR and Moon’s Northern Policy, which identifies Russia as South Korea’s primary partner.  The Southern Policy is part of Moon’s “balanced diplomacy” aimed to shift South Korea’s external dependence away from its traditional focus on China and the United States, and responds to recent threats to peninsula stability including tensions over the DPRK nuclear issue and THAAD deployment.  But viewed with skepticism as a repackaged policy toward ASEAN, Moon’s Southern Policy is nothing new and unclear in scope.26  According to more critical assessments, by supporting Washington and Tokyo’s “Indo-Pacific” strategic concept, the Southern Policy is likely to drive competition between China and South Korea in Southeast Asia.27

Donald Trump’s regional strategy and Chinese responses

US foreign policy under Trump has drawn intense interest in China, described as “unusual” in terms of the leader’s “personal character,” with “aggressive,” confrontational,” and “destructive” motivations.28  Although this external orientation is mainly manifested in Washington’s approach to international trade, it has produced tensions in China’s regional and major-power relations.  Since 2017, Chinese domestic debate has focused sharply on the US policy shift from Obama’s Asia-Pacific “rebalancing,” anticipating major adjustments in Washington’s regional role under Trump.  Viewed as a key test of US grand strategy, Trump’s Asia-Pacific policy not only signals US intentions in the region, but also raises bigger questions about US thinking on hegemony.29  Trump’s “America First” approach reflects both continuity and change in US policy in the Asia-Pacific: it maintains Washington’s external strategic priorities on the region, but is more problem-driven and less idealistic than Obama’s approach.  US policy in Asia under Trump is also hampered by domestic political pressures, new challenges in alliance relations, and the need to align goals with capabilities.30

Chinese views of US-China interactions in Northeast Asia are especially pessimistic.31  The Obama administration’s rebalancing strategy combined three features: “selective intervention,” aimed to build the United States’ strategic advantages over China in Northeast Asia; “new liberal internationalism,” designed to create a network of alliances based on shared principles of democracy; and an “indirect route” involving the use of regional disputes to consolidate US alliances and American dominance in Asia.  Trump’s regional strategy features a similar policy combination with a growing emphasis on indirect tools of influence.  This tendency has not only deepened US-China mutual suspicion, but also exacerbated tensions in China’s surrounding environment. 

As a replacement of Obama’s rebalancing, Trump’s broader Indo-Pacific strategy is a major point of concern as a potential source of regional instability and US-China competition.32  The Indo-Pacific strategy seeks to strengthen US regional alliances and partnerships based on “principled realism” and “America First” national security strategy; build the US-Japan-Australia-India quadrilateral mechanism as a core framework for security cooperation; and promote favorable regional economic relations.33  Such a strategy, however, is also viewed with skepticism, given emerging weaknesses within the US alliance system, India’s role as the weak link in the quad, and the lack of financial resources supporting the concept.  But despite the challenges to its practical implementation, Washington’s Indo-Pacific strategy is likely to intensify the complexity and competitiveness of US-China relations, send the wrong signals to US allies and partners, and drive the expansion of Japan’s military power including its naval capabilities. 

More sober assessments of US-China interactions in East Asia point to ongoing exaggerations of China’s rise as a major power, which remains limited to just the economic realm.  Characterized as an emerging bipolar system led by China and the United States, the East Asian order will continue to evolve in such a direction over the next two decades.34  While remaining vigilant of new diplomatic, security, and economic challenges posed by Washington’s Indo-Pacific strategy, China should seek to expand linkages between proposed cooperation mechanisms to jointly promote regional stability and development,35 Chinese sources argue.

Change on the Korean Peninsula: Opportunity or challenge for regional engagement?

China’s external environment just a few years ago faced a series of crises undermining the prospects for regional cooperation on the Korean Peninsula, including the escalation of North Korean nuclear threats, domestic political turmoil in South Korea, and the Sino-South Korean dispute over THAAD.36  Driven by his progressive ideology and vision for inter-Korean reconciliation, Moon Jae-in’s firm commitment to peninsula peace presented a favorable opportunity for China’s regional engagement.  But although the inter-Korean summits in 2018 were significant outcomes of Moon’s North Korea diplomacy, these achievements did little to change the basic nature of the peninsula problem.37  Change on the peninsula as envisioned in existing North-South agreements still depends on whether the two Koreas, China, and the United States can reach consensus on the two key issues of denuclearization and peace.  Kim Jong-un’s diplomatic offensive since the February 2018 Pyeongchang Winter Olympics came as a surprise to Chinese observers, but challenges to resolving the nuclear issue were clearly evident from the onset.38  Chinese assessments of relations with South Korea, North Korea, and the United States since 2017 underscore major constraints to regional coordination on the peninsula.

China-South Korea relations: “Minimum friendliness

Park Geun-hye’s political downfall from 2016 left domestic political, social, and economic wounds in South Korea affecting external relations on the peninsula.39  The four years of Park’s leadership in 2013-2017 was a critical period in the development of China-South Korea relations.40  Since Park’s ousting, domestic debate in China on how to manage relations with South Korea centered on three alternative themes framed primarily by South Korea’s relations with China and the United States: South Korea’s economic dependence on China and security dependence on the United States, its balancing act between China and the United States, and its friendliness toward the United States and hostility toward China.  China-South Korea relations under the Xi and Park leaderships floundered on four familiar problems: misplaced strategic goals, a lack of mutual trust, a “zero-sum” relationship between South Korea’s ties with China and the United States, and no consensus on the future of the East Asian order. A key priority in the Moon era is the alignment of the US-ROK alliance and China-ROK partnership, but developments over the past two years demonstrate the persistence of such problems.

Several uncertainties clouded the prospects for China-ROK cooperation from the beginning of the Moon administration, including Seoul’s security strategy, North Korea’s nuclear development, US geopolitical interests, and the widening gap in Chinese and South Korean public perceptions since the THAAD dispute.41  While Moon’s diplomatic calculations remain based on US policy and the US-ROK alliance according to Chinese observers, his policy of inter-Korean engagement indicates a significant departure from the approaches of his conservative predecessors.42  More importantly, Moon’s broader quest to claim South Korea’s status as a central player in Northeast Asia, with “autonomy and leadership” in shaping the peninsula’s future, raises new questions for the development of South Korea’s relationships with China and the United States.43  The shifting power balance between China and the United States presents further opportunities and challenges for South Korea’s diplomacy under Moon.  On the one hand, China’s development drives the South Korean economy, friendly ties with China support coordination on the DPRK nuclear issue, and South Korea can enhance its international status as mediator between China and the United States.  But on the other hand, great-power competition on the peninsula, North Korean military threats, and uncertainties surrounding China’s rise leave its strategic choices fundamentally divided between Beijing and Washington.44

Under this competitive environment, China’s willingness to risk confrontation with South Korea is limited.  Although China reacted angrily to Seoul and Washington’s decision to deploy THAAD, there remains an important interest in ensuring “minimum friendliness” with South Korea to prevent the peninsula from becoming a US strategic stronghold.45  At the same time, the US-ROK alliance itself faces growing challenges that may weaken it over time, including US retrenchment, domestic political and social pressures in South Korea, and external structural changes in Northeast Asia.  In the long run, South Korea’s pursuit of greater autonomy, along with the advancement of economic multilateralism in East Asia, is likely to compress the space for expanding the alliance.46

China-North Korea relations: “Same bed, different dreams

Regional tensions over North Korea’s nuclear development under Kim Jong-un have fueled active debate in China on the China-DPRK relationship.  The recent pattern of bilateral relations suggests a need to reshape the traditional friendship based on changes in security interests, ideological functions, and economic ties.47  Some observers conclude that “China and North Korea have parted ways,” reflecting long-term shifts in China’s DPRK policy since the 1980s: US-China normalization widened Beijing and Pyongyang’s diplomatic divide, China’s economic opening weakened their economic ties, and China-ROK normalization “destroyed” their political alliance.48  Their close relationship on the surface masks their “same bed, different dreams,” where “the special relationship of the so-called “blood alliance” has completely disintegrated.”  In addition, the negative impact of the nuclear issue on overall bilateral relations shows that political and security tensions on the peninsula are increasingly spilling over to economic and trade relations.49  According to pessimists, North Korea has lost its strategic value for Beijing, and the prospect of fundamentally and peacefully resolving the nuclear issue has passed.  But the peninsula’s uncertain future and its burden on China make it especially important to avoid hostile relations with Pyongyang.  In the long run, “under no circumstances” can the United States and US-ROK alliance assume military control of the northern part of the peninsula.50

At the regional level, Beijing’s tougher approach to the DPRK nuclear issue is identified among the biggest successes of China’s diplomacy contributing to its improved surrounding environment since 2017.51  But views are divided on what explains Kim Jong-un’s recent turn to engagement.  From one perspective, mounting external pressure made it too costly for North Korea to sustain its nuclear and missile development, reflecting North Korea’s concerns about the risks of war for its economic development, and changed attitudes toward regional counterparts.52On the other hand, having completed its nuclear development, North Korea sought a stronger position to negotiate with the United States.53  Despite the shared commitment to denuclearization, however, the key players in the peninsula puzzle remain deadlocked over preferred strategies.54   Disagreements stem from perceptions of the motives behind North Korea’s nuclear decisions.  As reflected in Beijing’s official position, the purpose of North Korea’s nuclear development is not a preemptive strike but self-defense in face of perceived threats from the US-South Korea alliance.55 

Such a view of North Korea’s motives raises two implications for understanding the nuclear issue and alternative approaches to it.  First, Chinese support has a limited effect on sanctions, which should instead be strengthened in other ways.  Sanctions may constrain Pyongyang’s economic resources but leave its motivations for nuclear development unchanged.  UN sanctions overlook key factors conditioning their impact, such as the resilience of the DPRK economy, Pyongyang’s effective use of sanctions to bolster internal solidarity, and the existence of an active underground economy.  The limited effectiveness of existing sanctions suggests a need to combine sanctions with other sticks and carrots to break the vicious cycle of DPRK nuclear threats and international pressure.56  Second, the security dilemma on the Korean Peninsula is primarily a dilemma between North Korea and the United States.57  From this perspective, Beijing’s proposal for the suspension of North Korea’s nuclear development in return for the suspension of US-ROK military exercises, through two-track talks on denuclearization and peace, are the best options for the peninsula’s long-term stability.58 While North Korea should take substantive steps toward denuclearization, the United States should also address Pyongyang’s legitimate security concerns.59  North Korea’s denuclearization and US-DPRK consensus on how to achieve it remain the biggest prerequisites for broader regional integration projects embodied in Moon’s diplomatic initiatives.60

China-United States relations: “Great-power games”

Chinese assessments of the US-China relationship agree on its competitive turn since 2017.  Washington’s attacks against China can be traced to a new “Trump phenomenon” in addition to what are identified as traditional drivers of US policy toward China, namely competition and suspicion.61  Viewed as an outcome of domestic populist forces and a crisis of American liberalism abroad, the “Trump phenomenon” and changes in the international environment add uncertainties to the US-China relationship.62  While the first year of the Trump administration produced no consensus on the direction of bilateral ties, the rising influence of Washington’s hardliners have posed serious economic and security challenges.63  There is a perceived consensus within the US policy community on the need to disengage from China to safeguard US national interests and international leadership.64  Despite disagreements on the US-China trade war, most of the American public support a tougher stance on China.65  From a long-term perspective, US policy toward China has reached a new stage where maintaining US power advantages will remain a priority focus over the next two to three decades.66  Adjustments in US foreign policy reflect the costs of globalization in the form of widening income disparities, rising security threats, and an identity crisis.67  While Trump has made short-term adjustments to US policy priorities, the rise of Trump can even be seen as a catalyst for the long-term rebalancing of US-China relations,68 according to Chinese sources.

On the Korean Peninsula, Trump’s initial pressure-based approach to North Korea recognized the urgency of the nuclear issue.69  Washington clearly prioritizes the goal of denuclearization, with widespread domestic consensus on preferred strategies of pressure followed by dialogue, a peace settlement, and the use of force.  But Trump’s pursuit of multiple policies over the past two years, ranging from military and economic threats to historic summits, has had counterproductive effects.  This strategy of “strategic uncertainty” is partly designed to constrain Chinese influence and manage external competition on the Korean Peninsula.  Washington’s combination of dialogue and pressure is insufficient to change Pyongyang’s nuclear decisions and is instead a key source of regional instability, reinforcing the cycle of “great-power games” on the peninsula.70

The most critical accounts warn that the United States is pursuing a “dual” wedge strategy aimed to divide China and both Koreas.71  This US quest to “weaken China’s influence on the Korean peninsula” is part of its broader Asia-Pacific strategy as evidenced in its security and economic engagements in the region.  The United States has severed China-DPRK ties by pushing for change through pressure, raising tensions between Beijing and Pyongyang, and making North Korea a growing strategic burden for China.  To weaken China’s economic partnership with South Korea, the United States signed the US-ROK FTA, pushed for South Korea joining the TPP, and restrained South Korea from joining the AIIB.  The China-South Korea THAAD dispute is a clear outcome of Washington’s wedge tactic that has intensified US-China strategic competition and destabilized overall regional relations.  It demonstrates Washington’s hostile intentions toward China and Russia, with South Korea only playing a secondary role.72  The tendency of both the United States and North Korea to adopt wedge tactics against each other to differentiate rivals makes China and South Korea passive players in Northeast Asia’s security alignments.73

US-China competition since 2017 has seriously undermined China’s surrounding environment by forcing its neighbors to choose sides.74  In making their strategic choices, US allies like South Korea confront a “dual dilemma” of managing external and internal political games.  As the THAAD case demonstrates, rather than “blindly following” Washington, US allies have sought a “dynamic balance” between China and the United States based on economic and security interests.75

The THAAD dispute’s impact on Chinese perceptions

The dispute over Seoul’s decision to deploy THAAD in 2016 reinforced the above structural constraints on the Korean Peninsula, and quickly reversed the positive movement of Sino-South Korean ties during the Park Geun-hye administration.  More importantly, it had a deeper impact of hardening mutual distrust in the region, which has lingered beyond Beijing and Seoul’s October 2017 decision to lay aside their differences.  China’s response in the form of “economic retaliation” drew widespread criticism but was seriously misunderstood, Chinese insist.76

Both official and academic debates reveal a significant gap in positions on THAAD since US-ROK preparations to install the missile defense system from 2014.77  In Chinese assessments, three factors influenced Seoul’s decision to deploy THAAD: US interests in strengthening strategic advantages against China and Russia, North Korean military threats, and domestic political pressures in South Korea driven by conservative voices.78  In addition to satisfying the containment of China and Russia, US promotion of THAAD was part of wedge strategies of dividing China and South Korea.79  Not only did THAAD deployment reflect South Korea’s foreign policy dependence on the US alliance, but by linking it to the DPRK nuclear issue Seoul made it difficult for China to challenge the decision.  The THAAD experience uncovered five characteristic weaknesses in China-ROK relations since normalization, including the lack of communication, weak crisis management mechanisms, limited security and military exchanges, third-party interference, and nationalism.80 

Despite South Korean insistence on THAAD’s protection of national security interests, China’s angry response stems from the perception that THAAD cannot effectively respond to North Korean attacks and instead weakens China’s strategic position.81  But in addition to driving this classic security dilemma, THAAD deployment was a major betrayal against China, affirming that South Korea has “chosen to support the United States in the US-China competition.” 82  While the Sino-South Korean dispute reflected “inevitable” tensions arising from the role of the US-ROK alliance in this competition, Seoul’s support of THAAD most importantly came at the cost of losing trust from Beijing.83  China’s own self-image in South Korea has evolved through four distinct phases: post-normalization improvement in the 1990s, Koguryo history clashes from the mid-2000s, recovery during the early Park Geun-hye period from 2013, and corrosion since the THAAD dispute.84  After more than 25 years of partnership, bilateral mistrust remains the biggest constraint on China-ROK relations.85  Chinese responses to South Korean public opinion trends since the THAAD dispute are focused on contrasting the pro-US orientation of Koreans against the weak social foundation of Sino-South Korean relations.86  South Korean preferences of aligning with the United States are attributed to Chinese threat perceptions, forces of nationalism, and a Cold War mentality further aggravated by the THAAD issue. 

While THAAD was the heaviest blow to China-ROK mutual perceptions since the Koguryo history war, it also changed the trajectory of broader regional relations.87  From the perspective of US regional strategy, THAAD deployment marked the completion of Asia Pacific rebalancing and undermined China’s strategic position in Northeast Asia.88  It drove a “cyclical downturn” in China’s trilateral relations with the United States and South Korea, undermining cooperation on the DPRK nuclear issue, inter-Korean reconciliation, and peninsula stability.89  The lack of trilateral consensus on peninsula security raised the need for changes in Washington’s Asia policy and Seoul’s security alignment with the United States, as well as a more active Chinese role in guiding the peninsula’s strategic future.  The effects of North Korean military threats, THAAD deployment, and US rebalancing “aimed at responding to the rise of China” may reproduce a “new Cold War order” in Northeast Asia.90  The economic repercussions of THAAD further underscored the challenges of linking Xi and Moon’s regional development strategies.91 

Conclusion: Old dilemmas under new leaders

Recent developments on the Korean Peninsula suggest renewed consensus on the goals of denuclearization and peace, and Kim Jong-un’s willingness to choose a different path from that taken by his father Kim Jong-il.  But Moon’s vision for North Korea’s regional integration echoes past failed efforts of inter-Korean reconciliation, including the reunification process embodied in Kim Dae-jung’s Sunshine Policy two decades ago.  The Panmunjom Declaration similarly leaves open the question of whether peace talks on formally ending the Korean War will include China. 

Chinese views of regional relations under the Moon and Trump administrations since 2017 reflect deep skepticism over the substantive implications of current North Korea diplomacy.  South Korea’s military alliance with the United States remains a core contradiction to the China-ROK partnership.  China and North Korea have grown more estranged from their traditional friendship as Pyongyang’s military provocations have demanded a reassessment of China’s strategic priorities.  While Trump’s “strategic uncertainty” has intensified China’s dilemmas on the peninsula, US firmness on denuclearization remains an ongoing source of deadlock in multilateral dialogue.  The THAAD case in 2016-2017 not only tested China’s ability to manage its strategic preferences on the peninsula, but also deepened mutual distrust with South Korea and the United States.

The improved regional security environment since 2017 still demonstrates common interests of avoiding costly conflict and the success of diplomacy in mitigating tensions.  But the skepticism underlying this reengagement raises the question of other motivating factors.  As Chinese domestic debates indicate, recent tensions were a clear reminder of the “minimum” engagement of both Koreas required to prevent a future scenario of a hostile Korea across the Chinese border aligned with US forces.  Moon’s active leadership on the peninsula reflects his mission of reconstructing inter-Korean relations and the broader Northeast Asian geopolitical landscape.92  But his North Korea policy is also a popular distraction from mounting social and economic pressures in South Korea, where each summit with Kim Jong-un has boosted his approval ratings.  Although Moon’s success in inter-Korean reconciliation is his biggest policy achievement, it appears less promising when viewed in a regional context.

1. Panmunjom Declaration for Peace, Prosperity and Unification of the Korean Peninsula,” April 27, 2018.

2. Foreign Ministry Spokesperson Lu Kang’s Regular Press Conference on January 10, 2019,” and “Xi, Kim Hold Talks, Reaching Important Consensus,” PRC Foreign Ministry, January 10, 2019.

3. Shi Yuanhua, “Zhengque renzhi Zhongguo zhoubian waijiao xin taishi,” Shijie zhishi, No. 17, 2018.

4. Ni Feng, “Changgui yinsu yu feichang gui yinsu huihe: Meiguo duihua zhengce de zhibian,” Xiandai guoji guanxi, No.7, 2018, pp. 15-23.

5. Li Zongxun, “Zhonghan jianjiao 25 zhounian yu xinxing huxin guanxi de goujian – yi lishi wenhua jiaoliu wei zhongxin,” Dangdai Hanguo, No.  1, 2018; Bai Yongrui, “Zhonghan jianjiao 25 nian shi chenggong de ma? – Cong lishi de jiaodu kan Zhonghan jianjiao 25 zhounian de chengguo yu keti,” Yanbian daxue xuebao, No. 2, 2018.

6. Koreas Hold Symbolic Groundbreaking Ceremony for Inter-Korean Railway and Road Project,” Yonhap and CGTN, December 26, 2018; “Potential of Rail Links: Denuclearization Holds Key to Inter-Korean Cooperation,” Korea Times, December 27, 2018.

7. Shi Yongming, “Upward Momentum: China’s Regional Diplomacy Maintains a Positive Trend in 2018,” Beijing Review, December 17, 2018.

8. Yang Jiechi, “Zhongguo tese daguo waijiao lilun de goujian fangxiang,” Xiandai guoji guanxi, No.3, 2017, pp. 1-8; Wang Yi, “Jinru xin shidai de Zhongguo waijiao: kaiqi xin hangcheng zhanxian xin qixiang,” Guoji wenti yanjiu, No.1, 2018; Lu Guangsheng and Tian Jiyang, “Xi Jinping zhoubian waijiao sixiang: Lilun yuanyuan, shidai yiyi he shijian fangxiang,” Dangdai shijie, No.8, 2018.

9. Shi Yongming, “Upward Momentum.”

10. Liu Bowen and Fang Changping, “Zhoubian guojia minzuzhuyi xin taishi yu Zhongguo waijiao de tiaozhan,” Guoji guancha, No. 6, 2018.

11. Ling Shengli, “Goujian zhoubian anquan gongtongti: Tiaozhan yu duice,” Guoji wenti yanjiu, No. 5, 2017.

12. Liu Feng, “Zhongmei zhanlue jingzheng yu Dongya anquan taishi,” Xiandai guoji guanxi, No. 8, 2017, pp. 23-30.

13. Zhang Jingquan and Wu Wei, “Quyuhua yu anquanhua beilun: Dongbei ya quyu de guojia yu tongmeng juese,” Dongbeiya luntan, No. 1, 2017, pp. 100-111.

14. Tang Yongsheng, “Qian tan goujian gen ju baorongxing, kechixu de Dongbeiya anquan kuangjia,” Dongbeiya xuekan, No. 2, 2018.

15. Sang Baichuan and Wang Wei, “Ni qianquihua beijing xia de Dongya jingji hezuo de jiyu,” Dongbeiya luntan, No. 3, 2018, pp. 74-87.

16. Fu Xin and Liu Chengchen, “‘Yidai yilu’ ‘jianshizhong de Dongya anquan yu hezuo jizhi zhonggou,” Dongbeiya luntan, No. 3, 2017, pp. 29-37.

17. Jiang Longfan, “‘Yidai yilu’ changyi shiyu xia de weiji guankong yu Dongbeiya anquan hezuo jizhi de goujian,” Dongbeiya luntan, No. 3, 2018, pp. 45-58.

18. Zhang Yunling, “Biandongzhong de Yatai geju yu yingdui zhice,” Waijiao jikan, No. 123, 2017.

19. Shen Minghui and Zhang Zhongyuan, “Tuijin Dongbeiya quyu hezuo de xianshi jichu yu lujing xuanze,” Dongbeiya luntan, No. 1, 2019, pp. 64-77; Li Zhiye, “Dongbeiya jushi xianzhuang yu qianjing,” Dongbeiya xuekan, No. 1, 2018.

20. Lin Shuo, “Dongbeiya quyu jingji hezuo de qianjing yu zuli,” Dongbeiya jingji yanjiu, 2018.

21. Zhang Yunling, “Biandong zhong de Yatai geju.”

22. Song Zhiyong, “Telangpu dangxuan hou Dongya quyu jingji hezuo zhangwang,” Dongbeiya luntan, No. 3, 2017, pp. 51-58.

23. Shi Yongming, “Upward Momentum.”

24. Sun Yi, “TPP zhuanxing yu Yatai jingjiti de yingdui,” Xiandai guoji guanxi, No. 8, 2018, pp. 56-63.

25. Address by President Moon Jae-in at the 42nd Singapore Lecture, “ROK and ASEAN: Partners for Achieving Peace and Co-prosperity in East Asia,” ISEAS, July 13, 2018.

26. Xue Li, “Hanguo ‘xin beifang zhengce’ ‘xin nanfang zhengce’ yu ‘yidai yilu’ duijie fenxi,Dongbeiya luntan, No. 5, 2018, pp. 60-69.

27. Zhan Debin “Hanguo waijiao xin buju zhong de ‘xin nanfang zhengce’ pingxi,Dongbeiya luntan No. 3, 2018,pp.59-73.

28. Chu Shulong and Zhou Lanjun, “Telangpu zhengfu waijiao texing jiqi yingxiang,” Xiandai guoji guanxi, No. 8, 2018, pp. 23-30.

29. Zhang Yuguo, “Telangpu zhengquan yu Meiguo Yatai zaipingheng zhanlue,” Dongbeiya luntan, No. 2, 2017, pp. 13-24.

30. Liu Qing, “Telangpu zhengfu Yatai zhengce jiqi zouxiang,Guoji wenti yanjiu, No. 4, 2017.

31. Liu Xuelian and Fan Wei, “Zhongmei zai Dongbeiya de zhanlue boyi: jianjie luxian yu leixing hunhe, Dongbeiya luntan, No. 6, 2018, pp. 32-48.

32. Shi Yuanhua, “Zhengque renzhi Zhongguo zhoubian waijiao xin taishi.”

33. Xia Liping and Zhong Qi, “Telangpu zhengfu ‘Yintai zhanlue gouxiang’ pingxi,Xiandai guoji guanxi, No. 1, 2018, pp. 22-28.

34. Han Zhaoying and Huang Yulong, “Zhongguo jueqi, Dongya geju he Dongya zhixu: xianzhuang yu weilai,Xiandai guoji guanxi, No. 9, 2018, pp. 1-9.

35. Zhang Jie, “Meiriaoyin ‘sibian duihua’ yu Yatai diqu zhixu de zhonggou,Guoji wenti yanjiu, No. 5, 2018.

36. Yu Shaohua, “Chongxin shenshi Chaoxian bandao wuhehua wenti,Guoji wenti yanjiu, No. 2, 2017; Li Jun, “Chaoxian bandao xingshi xianzhuang ji qianjing,” Xiandai guoji guanxi, No. 12, 2017, pp. 21-23.

37. Han Xiandong, “Yi gouzhu heping wei zhongxin: Wen Zaiyin zhengfu de duichao zhengce,” Xiandai guoji guanxi, No. 5, 2018, pp. 7-15.

38. Li Jun “Chaoxian waijiao gongshi jiqi tiaozhan,” Xiandai guoji guanxi, No. 5 (2018), pp. 1-6.

39. Li Rongrong and Wang Fudong, “Hanguo zhengju dongdang de tedian, dongyin ji yingxiang,” Xiandai guoji guanxi, No. 1, 2017, pp. 24-31.

40. Zhang Chi, “Da bianlun yu da zhuanzhe: Piao Jinhui shidai Zhonghan guanxi de fansi yu qishi,” Dongbeiya luntan, No. 1, 2018, pp. 111-126.

41. Men Honghua and Liu Xiaoyang, “Zhonghan guanxi de buquedingxing yinsu jiqi zhanlue yingdui,” Dongbeiya luntan, No. 4, 2017, pp. 66-77.

42. Wang Junsheng, “Wen Zaiyin zhengfu bairi waijiao xinzheng: Chaqiang renyi,” Shijie zhishi, No. 18, 2017.

43. Guo Rei, “Zhonghan guanxi fazhan de zouxiang, nandian yu jingyan,” Dangdai Hanguo, No. 3, 2017.

44. Li Li, “Zhongmei guoji diwei bianhua yu Hanguo de jiyu, tiaozhan he zhanlue xuanze,” Dangdai Hanguo, No. 3, 2017.

45. Shi Yinhong, “Zhongguo de Dongbeiya nanti: Zhongri, Zhonghan he Zhongchao guanxi de zhanlue anquan xingshi,Guoji anquan yanjiu, No. 1,2018.

46. Bi Yingda, “Tiaozhengzhong de Meihan tongmeng: Fazhan licheng, qianghua dongyin jiqi tiaozhan,” Meiguo yanjiu, No. 1, 2018.

47. Li Jinhui, “Zhongchao guanxi jiegou de liubian jiqi qishi – yi diyuan zhengzhixue jiqi jiegou wei fenxi shijiao,” Dongjiang xuekan, No. 4, 2018.

48. Chen Zhihua, “Zhongchao guanxi shi yanjiuzhong de jige zhongyao wenti,” Qinghua daxue xuebao, No. 1, 2018.

49. Jing Jing “Zhongchao jingmao guanxi de xianzhuang tansuo ji yuanyin fansi,” Dongbeiya jingji yanjiu, No. 4, 2017.

50. Shi Yinhong, “Zhongguo de Dongbeiya nanti.”

51. Shi Yinhong, “Zhongguo de zhoubian zhanlue yu duimei guanxi,” Xiandai guoji guanxi, No. 6, 2018, pp. 3-5.

52. Zheng Jiyong, “Chaoxian bandao jushi zhuanhuan: Dongyin, pinggu yu zhanwang,” Xiandai guoji guanxi, No. 5, 2018, pp. 24-32.

53. Zhu Feng, “Dongao waijiao, Hanchao jiechu yu Meichao shounao huitan: Chaoxian bandao shifou jiang chuxian lishixing xin bianhua?” Xiandai guoji guanxi, No. 3, 2018, pp. 8-17.

54. Yang Qifeng, Xu Shumei and Yang Hai, “’Ruan quanli’ shijiao xia Zhongmei jiejue Chaohe wenti de xin lujing wangluo shoufa,” Shijie dili yanjiu, No. 6, 2018.

55. Yang Xiyu, “Chaoxian he wenti yu Zhongguo de duichao zhengce,” Xiandai guoji guanxi, No.1, 2017, pp. 15-23.

56. Hao Qunhuan, “Lianheguo duichao zhicai de xiaoguo jiqi zhiyue yinsu,” Xiandai guoji guanxi, No.5, 2017, pp. 1-9.

57. Yang Wenjing, “Chaohe bianjuzhong de Meiguo yinsu,” Xiandai guoji guanxi No. 5, 2018, pp. 16-23.

58. Yang Xiyu, “Chaoxian bandao de ‘anquan kunjing’ jiqi chulu,” Guoji wenti yanjiu, No. 1, 2018; Yang Xiyu, “Chaoxian he wenti yu Zhongguo de duichao zhengce.”

59. Wang Junsheng, “Meiguo Telangpu zhengfu shijiao xia de duichao zhengce: Duoyuan beijing xia de jiben gongshi,” Dongbeiya luntan, No. 4, 2018, pp. 39-55.

60. Xue Li, “Hanguo ‘xin beifang zhengce.’”

61. Ni Feng, “Changgui yinsu yu feichang gui yinsu huihe.”

62. Ruan Zongze, “Telangpu ‘xin yuanjing’ yu Zhongguo waijiao xuanze,” Guoji wenti yanjiu, No. 2, 2017.

63. Wu Xinbo, “Telangpu zhizheng yu Meiguo duihua zhengce xin jieduan,” Guoji wenti yanjiu, No. 3, 2018.

64. Wang You and Chen Dingding, “Zhongmei jingji yu zhanlue tuogou de qushi ji yingxiang,” Xiandai guoji guanxi, No.7, 2018, pp. 24-31.

65. Liu Weidong, “Telangpu zhengfu duihua shiya de guonei dongyin,” Xiandai guoji guanxi No. 7, 2018, pp.  32-38.

66. Wu Xinbo, “Telangpu zhizheng yu Meiguo duihua zhengce xin jieduan.”

67. Han Zhaoying and Jiang Tan, “Quanqiuhua beijing xia Meiguo duiwai zhanlue de zhuanxiang,” Xiandai guoji guanxi, No. 4, 201, pp. 15-22.

68. Song Guoyu, “Liyi bianhua, juese zhuanhuan he guanxi junheng: Telangpu shiqi Zhongmei guanxi fazhan qushi,” Xiandai guoji guanxi, No. 8, 2017, pp. 31-36.

69. Fan Jishe, “Telangpu zhengfu duichao zhengce luoji yu Chaohe wenti qianjing,” Xiandai guoji guanxi, No. 7, 2017, pp. 18-25.

70. Ge Hanwen, “Da zhanlue tiaozheng beijing xia de zhanlue buquedingxing – Telangpu duichao zhengce yu bandao anquan xingshi yanjin,” Dongbeiya luntan No. 1, 2019, pp. 116-126.

71. Ling Shengli, “Shuangchong fenhua: Meiguo dui Chaoxian bandao de xiezi zhanlue,” Dongbeiya luntan, No. 5, 2017, pp. 46-57.

72. Dong Xiangrong, “Shibie Chaoxian bandao de anquan kunjing yu fei anquan kunjing,Dongbeiya luntan, No.  1, 2019, pp. 102-115.

73. Zhong Zhenming, “Meichao zhi jian qiangya xing hudong de lianmeng fenhua luoji – yi zhong xie zi zhanlue de fenxi zhong zhenming,” Jiaoxue yu yanjiu, No. 11, 2018.

74. Shi Yuanhua and Xiao Yang, “Zhongguo zhoubian xingshi xin tedian yu zhoubian waijiao xin sikao,” Dangdai shijie, No.8, 2018.

75. Ling Shengli, “Shuangchong kunjing yu Dongtai pingheng – Zhongmei Yatai zhudao quan jingzheng yu Meiguo Yatai mengguo de zhanlue xuanze,” Shijie jingji yu zhengzhi, No. 3, 2018.

76. Sun Ru, “Lijie Zhongguo dui ‘sade’ wenti de fanying,” Xiandai guoji guanxi, No.4, 2017, pp. 3-6.

77. Liu Chong, “Cong ‘sade’ ru Han kan Zhongmei zhanlue anquan huxin de kunjing yu chulu,” Xiandai guoji guanxi, No. 4, 2017, pp. 6-9.

78. Wu Jingjing, “Hanguo bushu ‘sade’de zhengce yanbian,” Guoji wenti yanjiu, No. 6, 2017.

79. Li Xiangwan, “’Sade ru Han’ yu Dongbeiya de ‘anquan kunjing’: Jiyu xinxianshizhuyi de fenxi,” Dongbeiya luntan, No. 6, 2016.

80. Piao Guanghai, “Zhonghan guanxi fazhan jingyan, jiaoxun ji zhengce jianyi – yi Zhonghan guanxi shousun shijian wei zhongxin,” Dangdai Hanguo, 2018.

81. Li Xiangwan, “’Sade ru Han’ yu Dongbeiya de ‘anquan kunjing.’”

82. Wang Xiaoke Xin shidai de Zhonghan guanxi: Jiyu he tiaozhan,” Dangdai Hanguo, No.2, 2018.

83. Liu Tiancong, “’Sade’ bushu de Hanguo yinsu.” Xiandai guoji guanxi, No. 4, 2017, pp. 9-12.

84. Qi Xiaofeng and An Renhuan, “Cong Hanguo meiti shijiao kan Zhongguo guojia xingxiang de bianhua,” Dangdai Hanguo, 2017.

85. Men Honghua and Liu Xiaoyang, “Zhonghan guanxi de buquedingxing yinsu jiqi zhanlue yingdui.”

86. Wang Xiaoling, “Hanguo minzhong ‘qinmei shuzhong’ de xianzhuang, yuanyin ji yingdui,” Xiandai guoij guanxi, No.10, 2018, pp. 46-52.

87. Chen Xiangyang, “’Sade ru Han’ dui Dongbeiya diqu de zhanlue yingxiang,” Xiandai guoji guanxi, No. 4, 2017, pp. 1-3.

88. Dong Xianrong, “Hanguo jueding bushu sade de zhanlue kaoliang yu zhanshu anpai – jiantan bushu sade dui Dongbeiya diqu guanxi de yingxiang,” Dangdai shijie, No. 8, 2016.

89. Wang Dong and Sun Bingyan, “Shilun Zhongmeihan sanjiao guanxi,” Dongbeiya luntan, No. 1, 2018, pp. 97-110.

90. Li Xiangwan, “’Sade ru Han’ yu Dongbeiya de ‘anquan kunjing.’”

91. Li Chengri, “Zhonguo dui Chaoxian bandao zhengce yu xin shidai Zhonghan guanxi de fazhan,” Dangdai Hanguo No. 1,2018.

92. President Moon Jae-in’s Address on Korea’s 73rd Liberation Day, August 15, 2018.”