China's clear and present conundrum on the Korean peninsula : stuck between the past and the future

Xiangfeng YANG*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Journal PublicationsJournal Article (refereed)peer-review

8 Citations (Scopus)


In tackling the current nuclear crisis on the Korean peninsula, President Donald Trump has invested-especially before the dramatic turn of events since early 2018-a great deal of political capital in President Xi Jinping in the hopes that he might rein in North Korea, China's traditional ally. However, expecting Beijing to 'solve' the problem is unrealistic. Chinese thinking on North Korea-as reflected in policy positions and domestic debates-has been marred by inconsistencies and overcaution and it is now further complicated by the intensifying geopolitical competition with the United States, which also embroils, to a varying degree, South Korea and Taiwan. Beijing has been strenuously walking a fine line between pressing Pyongyang and averting a war, all the while watching its back, particularly with regard to Taiwan and the South China Sea. Beijing's risk aversion over North Korea and its security competition with the US has led it into a geopolitical conundrum from which there is no clear exit.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)595-611
Number of pages17
JournalInternational Affairs
Issue number3
Publication statusPublished - May 2018
Externally publishedYes

Bibliographical note

The author would like to thank Denny Roy, Moon Chung-in, Edward Friedman, Lee Sangman, Cheng Xiaohe, Han Sukhee, David Straub, Tanaka Takahiko, Satoh Haruko, Kim Dongchan, Son Daekwon, Yin Boyao, Christina Faegri, and the anonymous reviewers for comments and suggestions. He also gratefully acknowledges the support of the POSCO fellowship at the East–West Center, where Carolyn Eguchi was especially helpful.

Publisher Copyright:
© The Author(s) 2018. Published by Oxford University Press on behalf of The Royal Institute of International Affairs. All rights reserved.


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