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Cutting Off North Korean Trade Impractical For China

The risks of such a move make it a very unlikely option for Beijing.

By Han Bingbin Updated Jul.14

It is not a practical option for China to completely cut off trade with North Korea, even though the US might be disappointed with China’s actions, said Zhu Feng, executive director of the Collaborative Innovation Center for South China Sea Studies under Nanjing University, told CRNTT.com, run by the Hong Kong-based China Review News. 

Trade is believed to be a preemptive chip that China holds to keep the North Korean regime from breaking down, according to Zhu. As the consequences of a North Korean collapse would deeply affect China, he argued, it's a difficult decision to actually block trade. 

There are a series of disagreements between China and the US that have prevented and will prevent the two countries from effectively cooperating over the North Korea issue, according to Zhu. While the US has called repeatedly for China to restrain North Korea, he said, China believes it holds less responsibility for the issue. 

It’s illogical to believe that additional pressure from China will significantly improve the situation, Zhu said, since it is the result of a series of US-driven factors such as basing troops in South Korea and its joint military exercises with the South.  

The two countries are also believed to think in very different ways about the option of a war. Were a second Korean war to break out, the Chinese public would never agree to such a notion, the scholar said.  

The process of solving the North Korea issue is likely to create an opportunity for China and the US to enhance strategic mutual trust, Zhu claimed. While feeling increasingly threatened by North Korea, especially after the successful launch of an intercontinental ballistic missile by the North on July 4, according to Zhu, the US has some interests to balance—whether to tolerate the weapons program or to solve the problem through working with other countries based on mutual respect and coordination.  

Compared to six decades ago, the US and China have already reached a relative consensus on Pyongyang, Zhu said, suggesting that they should start working on a scheme to deal with any emergencies likely to occur in the North.  

But Zhu said he still has his doubts as to whether talks and negotiations alone would help solve the problem. He believes they would work only on two conditions: the US seriously demonstrates its will to launch a military strike on the North and if the North were to continue with its threats, Beijing would give up its support.