Since the early 2000s, crises on the Korean Peninsula have prompted Chinese intellectuals and policy elites into fierce debates about Beijing’s North Korea policy. This study first provides an overview of those testy exchanges and then delves into the contestations about the bilateral relationship as well as the underlying assumptions beneath. On the question of identification, the Chinese are torn between characterizing North Korea as an ally or just as a neighbourly friend. On the question of whether its usefulness justifies continued Chinese support, the debates have revolved around North Korea as a geopolitical buffer, even though the strategic underpinnings are questionable. In both cases the mainstream views are fraught with contradictions and inconsistencies, which will certainly continue to hobble China’s North Korea policy.
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