July 12, 2006

China's Army Yawns at Pyongyang's Missiles

 After initially expressing “concern” over North Korea’s July 4th missile launches, China’s unwillingness to work towards serious sanctions on North Korea provides further proof that Beijing has little interest in restraining Pyongyang. What are we to make of the disconnect between Chinese rhetoric and action? In many ways, it reflects a disconnect between the Chinese People’s Liberation Army (PLA)—which almost certainly does not share any real concerns about North Korea’s missile provocations—and Chinese diplomats, who have largely been kept out of the loop. At the end of the day, Washington needs to face the fact that without any Chinese interest in disarming North Korea there is no viable solution to the North Korean nuclear problem.


The PLA’s Relationship with North Korea

Provocative missile launches are nothing new in the Asia-Pacific region. In March 1996, China recklessly test-fired missiles into the Taiwan Strait in an attempt to intimidate Taiwan’s voters in the run-up to their first-ever free presidential elections. That series of missile tests, which for several days virtually closed the heavily-traversed Taiwan Strait to all shipping and air travel, was the brain-child of the PLA and acquiesced to by then-President Jiang Zemin, who at the time had not yet consolidated his support among China’s military.[1]


Indeed, the real players in Beijing’s Korea policy are the PLA leadership. There is no doubt that the PLA is in close contact with its North Korean counterparts. Article IV of the July 11, 1961, military pact (the “Treaty of Friendship, Co-operation and Mutual Assistance between the People’s Republic of China and the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea”) obliges Korean People’s Army (KPA) commanders and top Chinese generals to “continue to consult . . . on all important international questions of common interests.” In return, China is to “render . . . every possible economic and technical aid in the cause of socialist construction” including “scientific and technical cooperation.”



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