Detsch 1

Andrew Jackson Detsch V
IAFF 3182
U.S. National Security Challenges and the Role of Military Force
Dr. Thomas Parker
December 3, 2012

China’s “Middle Kingdom” Strategy

The Mandarin word for China (zhongguo) means simply: “Middle Kingdom.”
China considers itself the rightful political and economic center of gravity in the Asia-
Pacific, and since the unification of the People’s Republic in 1949, it has consistently
sought to leverage greater control over its geopolitical neighborhood. This trend began
with Chairman Mao Zedong’s pledge to resist “aggression in the guise of the UN," in
Korea, sending military reinforcements into the country on November 1, 1950 after
American troops crossed the 38
th
parallel.
1
Utilizing the largest economy in the region,
the effect of this psychology on China muscular security strategy, has increasingly
magnified. China now aggressively pursues control of contested deposits of oil and
natural in the South China Sea, the Senkaku and Diayu Islands claimed by Japan, and
expansion of medium and long-range sea missile capabilities and anti-access (A2) and
area denial (AD) capabilities to deter the United States from assisting critical allies, such
as Indonesia and the Philippines, in Southeast Asia.
2

Assisting North Korea remains paramount to preserving the China’s “Middle
Kingdom” strategy. The Politburo’s blatant unilateral posturing has led a coalition of
rival states to begin a campaign of military encirclement. China now faces nuclear
countries on each of its borders: with Russia to the Northwest, India to the Southwest,
and Japan to the Northeast. South Korea also faces the “Middle Kingdom” across the
East China Sea, and a rising Vietnam has been increasingly eager to participate in closer
bilateral dialogues with the United States and Japan.
3

Although its Pyongyang’s antics have consistently frustrated Beijing, preserving
the North Korea is the linchpin of China’s “Middle Kingdom” strategy. Total
encirclement by hostile powers in the event of North Korea’s dissolution would, in all
likelihood, destroy China’s nationalist dream of being the preeminent power in the
region, causing it to lose grasp of many, if not most, of its key objectives.
With no domestic revenue base to speak of, economic aid emerging from Beijing
has largely what has kept the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK) afloat for
the past decade. This is not a new phenomenon: ever since its partition with the South in
1953, after an international conflict which left much of its industrial base in ruins, the
North Korea has largely depended on Chinese and Russian aid to drive its socialized,


1
Chinese Military Science Academy (September 2000). History of War to Resist
America and Aid Korea (抗美援朝战争史). I. Beijing: Chinese Military Science
Academy Publishing House. pp. 35-36. ISBN 7-80137-390-1.
2
Scott Snyder, “China-Korea Relations: Pyongyang Tests Beijing’s Patience,” Center for
Strategic and International Studies Comparative Connections (July 2009): 5.
3
Mark E. Manyin and Mary Beth Nikitin, “Foreign Assistance to North Korea”
Congressional Research Service Special Report (April 12, 2012): 12.
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agrarian economy. While economic data emerging from Kim Jong-un’s autarkic regime
in Pyongyang, one of the last avowed Communist governments in the world, is largely
unreliable, expert analysis suggests that the country faces persistent food shortages,
starvation, and stagnant growth.
4

China is not just backing North Korea with economic aid, but it increasingly
accounts for a larger share of its trade: constituting 40% of Pyongyang’s exports in 2008
and a total of $3.4 billion.
5
Foreign Direct Investment (FDI) inflows generated by China
have skyrocketed to $41.2 million, and have spurred joint sponsorship of economic
development zones throughout the country, at Sinuiju opposite Dandong, dams along the
Tumen River at the far Northeast part of the border, the Rason project between Rajin and
Sonbong on North Korea’s northeast coast, and along a nearly 250-kilometer stretch of
the Yalu River.
6
The DPRK’s $1.25 billion trade deficit is practically subsidized entirely
by China, as it supplies 90% of the country’s oil, 80% of its consumer goods, and 45% of
its food.
7
These investments appear to target the mineral and mining sectors, targeting
raw, extractable goods which play a major role in China’s production of finished goods
produced for export. Correspondingly, with increasing involvement from the Politburo,
many of Pyongyang’s other traditional trade partners, including South Korea, are pulling
back trade.
Still, the overall Beijing’s efforts to promote economic opening have gone
unheeded: Pyongyang’s sole attempt at reform, a substantial devaluation of the currency
in 2010 designed to stoke economic growth, had the opposite effect, causing drastic
inflation and shortages in many basic subsistence goods.
8
Multilateral sanctions against
the regime, resulting from a failure to curb its nuclear program, further compound these
problems, and enable persisting stagnation.
9
While China’s North Korea strategy has
ascertained the solvency of the state apparatus, it remains inherently unstable.
Why does China have such a formidable interest in preserving North Korea? The
motivations are not ideological by nature: China has showed a similar distrust of
capitalist and communist countries in the development of their policy, as is evidenced by
the Sino-Soviet split of 1960 and the 1972 rapproachment with the United States in order
to enable the division of Vietnam.
10
Furthermore, in contrast to most major world powers

4
Mark E. Manyin and Mary Beth Nikitin, “Foreign Assistance to North Korea”
Congressional Research Service Special Report (April 12, 2012): 12.
5
Bates Gill, “China’s North Korea Policy,” U.S. Institute of Peace Special Report 283
(July 2011): 7.
6
Ibid, 4.
7
Scott Snyder, “China-Korea Relations: Pyongyang Tests Beijing’s Patience,” Center for
Strategic and International Studies Comparative Connections (July 2009): 7.
8
Barbara Demick, “Nothing Left: Is North Korea finally facing collapse?” The New
Yorker, July 10, 2010, accessed December 7, 2012,
http://www.newyorker.com/reporting/2010/07/12/100712fa_fact_demick.
9
Kelsey Davenport, “Sanctions Seen Slowing N. Korea Progress,” Arms Control
Association, http://www.armscontrol.org/2012_07-
08/Sanctions_Seen_Slowing_N_Korea_Progress
10
Richard C. Thornton, Soviet Asian Strategy in the Brezhnev Era and Beyond: Is
Détente Inevitable? (Washington: Washington Institute Press, 1985), 34.
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of the past century, appears to have little interest in spreading its ideology of “illiberal
capitalism,” Deng Xiaoping’s model of economic liberalization paired with extreme
social and political controls, throughout the world.
But like any other power, China seeks regional hegemony: overall excellence in
the political, economic, and military affairs of the Asia-Pacific. The Politburo’s policy
appears to be consistent with Mao Zedong’s “divide and conquer” notions of the 20
th

Century: the rise of a unified, nuclear Korea, could serve as a further deterrent challenge
in the East Asian neighborhood, distracting China’s hopes to expand its naval reach into
the South China Sea and the middle Pacific at a time when it is facing slowing economic
growth.
11

But the centrality of North Korea to the “Middle Kingdom” strategy is not just
based on political-military calculations: most modern Koreans trace their ancestral
origins back to ancient China and Mongolia, a point which is not lost on party cronies
inside the Politburo. Their aversion to state failure in North Korea is as much based on
strategic interest as it is moral imperative: similar to the Taiwan problem, the Chinese
believe it is their political right and responsibility to drive Korean affairs, extending back
to Chairman Mao’s decision to intervene in Korea following General Douglas
MacArthur’s landing at Inchon in 1948 in hopes to push the Americans back past the 38
th

parallel.
12

Ties have further tightened following Kim Jong Il’s stroke in January of 2008: Hu
Jintao and Wen Jiabao seemed more readily able to deal with more pragmatic regime
elements that emerged in the subsequent power vacuum than the isolationist, erratic Mr.
Kim, son of the nation’s founding father, increasing party-to-party ties and ministerial
relationships which lie at the heart of the relationship.
Furthermore, Chinese strategy is also focused on the development of deterrent
capabilities against the United States, as the PLAN hopes to create “a variant of the
DongFeng (DF) 21 (CSS-5) medium range ballistic missile capable of targeting U.S.
naval surface combatants-notably aircraft carriers-at distances of up to 1,500 kilometers
(810 nautical miles) from the Chinese mainland.”
13
Area-denial efforts in the air-sea
battle theatre of the Pacific would come under increasing strain were Korea to be unified
under the banner of the South: undoubtedly, the United States would immediately look to
secure basing agreements near the Chinese border, constraining operations.
These trends, improving Chinese military technology and regional force posture,
suggest that China is comfortable with the status quo and seeks to extend upon its
perceived gains in the region through the paradigm of its North Korea strategy. As is the
case with most foreign policy issues, this has led the Politburo to take a methodical
approach to the nuclear weapons regime: Mr. Hu roundly condemned Mr. Kim’s decision
to detonate a nuclear device in 2006, arguing that the action amounted to “flagrantly

11
Bates Gill, “China’s North Korea Policy,” U.S. Institute of Peace Special Report 283
(July 2011): 7.
12
Jayshree Bajoria, “The China-North Korea Relationship,” Council on Foreign
Relations, October 6, 2010, accessed December 10, 2012,
http://www.cfr.org/china/china-north-korea-relationship/p11097.
13
Barry D. Watts, “The Implications of China’s Military and Civil Space Programs,”
Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments Testimony (May 2011): 7.
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conducting a nuclear test in disregard of the common opposition of the international
community.”
14

Beijing’s overall attitude towards the nuclear program is one of frustration and
impatience: with international perceptions suggesting the Politburo is the kingmaker
Pyongyang, failed missile launches undermine China’s credibility as the dealmaker in the
region, hurting the symbolic construction of the “Middle Kingdom” as a whole. As a
result, the tests embarrass China on a global scale.
15

Still, the P.R.C. is by far North Korea’s staunchest backer on the United Nations
Security Council and has thus far resisted most efforts on behalf of the United States to
enact serious sanctions against Pyongyang’s weapons program, only bucking that trend in
support of UN Security Council Resolution 1718 in 2009.
16
China never formally scolded
the DPRK for leaving the six-party talks later that year, the international community’s
diplomatic hedge against Kim Jong II’s decision to withdraw from the Nuclear Non-
Proliferation Treaty (NPT) in 2003.
17
It even tolerates increasing migration flows
Westward into the country, despite the serious economic drain it causes.
Even after DPRK tests of the Unha-3 ballistic rocket on December 12, 2012,
which led the State Department to call for intensified sanctions, Xi Jinping and the
Politburo remain mum on the subject, and continue to resist utilization of their own
economic leverage to force the Worker’s Party to come to the table with the international
community for talks.

Conclusion
China’s aversion to instability is commendable: rapid unification of the Koreas
would be inherently destabilizing for both the United States and the nations of the Asia-P
tolerance of a nuclear North Korea is at the root of the problem.
18

Serious economic development, in the long run, will likely be impossible without
the abandonment of Mr. Kim’s weapons program. While, to a certain extent, this limits
the Politburo’s leverage, ultimately, China would rather have a thorn, as opposed to a
gash in its side, which is what a failed North Korea would constitute.

14
Bates Gill, “China’s North Korea Policy,” U.S. Institute of Peace Special Report 283
(July 2011): 1.
15
Aidan Foster-Carter, “Harsh Realities for North Korea’s unseen heir,” Financial Times,
September 28, 2010, accessed December 1, 2012,
http://www.ft.com/intl/cms/s/a90ac8b2-cae3-11df-bf36-
00144feab49a,Authorised=false.html?_i_location=http%3A%2F%2Fwww.ft.com%2Fcm
s%2Fs%2F0%2Fa90ac8b2-cae3-11df-bf36
00144feab49a.html&_i_referer=#axzz2FXXUPIh9.
16
“Council on Foreign Relations: UN Security Council Resolution 1874 – North Korea,”
accessed December 7, 2012, http://www.cfr.org/proliferation/un-security-council-
resolution-1874-north-korea/p19625.
17
“China resists moves to sanction N. Korea: diplomats,” accessed December 9, 2012,
http://www.channelnewsasia.com/stories/afp_asiapacific/view/1243348/1/.html.
18
Scott Snyder, “China-Korea Relations: Pyongyang Tests Beijing’s Patience,” Center
for Strategic and International Studies Comparative Connections (July 2009): 5.
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The reality is that China has built a solvent state in North Korea, but only barely.
To maintain their ambition to establish the “Middle Kingdom” at the center of the Asia-
Pacific, it will be vital, in the long-run, that China promote the denuclearization of North
Korea, increasingly pressing the regime through minimization of economic aid.










































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Bibliography

Gill, Bates. “China’s North Korea Policy.” U.S. Institute of Peace Special Report 283
(July 2011).

Foster-Carter, Aidan. “Harsh Realities for North Korea’s unseen heir.” Financial Times,
September 28, 2010. Accessed December 1, 2012.
http://www.ft.com/intl/cms/s/a90ac8b2-cae3-11df-bf36-
00144feab49a,Authorised=false.html?_i_location=http%3A%2F%2Fwww.ft.com%2Fcm
s%2Fs%2F0%2Fa90ac8b2-cae3-11df-
bf3600144feab49a.html&_i_referer=#axzz2FXXUPIh9.

“Council on Foreign Relations: UN Security Council Resolution 1874 – North Korea.”
Accessed December 7, 2012. http://www.cfr.org/proliferation/un-security-council-
resolution-1874-north-korea/p19625.

“China resists moves to sanction N. Korea: diplomats.” Accessed December 9, 2012.
http://www.channelnewsasia.com/stories/afp_asiapacific/view/1243348/1/.html.

Snyder, Scott. “China-Korea Relations: Pyongyang Tests Beijing’s Patience.” Center for
Strategic and International Studies Comparative Connections (July 2009).

Bajoria, Jayshree. “The China-North Korea Relationship.” Council on Foreign Relations,
October 6, 2010. Accessed December 10, 2012, http://www.cfr.org/china/china-north-
korea-relationship/p11097.

Watts, Barry D. “The Implications of China’s Military and Civil Space Programs.”
Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments Testimony (May 2011).

Demick, Barbara. “Nothing Left: Is North Korea finally facing collapse?” The New
Yorker, July 10, 2010. Accessed December 7, 2012,
http://www.newyorker.com/reporting/2010/07/12/100712fa_fact_demick.

Manyin, Mark E. and Mary Beth Nikitin. “Foreign Assistance to North Korea.”
Congressional Research Service Special Report (April 12, 2012).

Davenport, Kelsey. “Sanctions Seen Slowing N. Korea Progress.” Arms Control
Association, http://www.armscontrol.org/2012_07-
08/Sanctions_Seen_Slowing_N_Korea_Progress.

Chinese Military Science Academy (September 2000). History of War to Resist
America and Aid Korea (抗美援朝战争史). I. Beijing: Chinese Military Science
Academy Publishing House. pp. 35-36. ISBN 7-80137-390-1.

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Thornton, Richard C. Soviet Asian Strategy in the Brezhnev Era and Beyond: Is Détente
Inevitable? Washington: Washington Institute Press, 1985.

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