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Between Ideology and Strategy China’s Security Policy Toward the Korean Peninsula Since Rapprochement Gregg Andrew Brazinsky Any Chinese official looking at the Korean peninsula in 1968 would have likely been extremely troubled about the state of China’s influence there. In 1905, Japan’s annexation of Korea had shattered China’s centuries-old dominance over the peninsula . While the Korean War had created powerful bonds between the People’s Republic of China (PRC) and the new North Korean state, it had also solidified the division of Korea and left South Korea under American hegemony. By the late 1960s, relations between North Korea and the PRC were deteriorating as well. The extremism of the Cultural Revolution, launched by Mao Zedong in 1966, had led to growing Chinese isolation from the rest of the world, including once-staunch allies like the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK). By the turn of the century, however, the situation had reversed itself dramatically . Although some tensions between China and North Korea remained, the PRC seemed more capable of influencing Pyongyang than any other country in the world. Moreover, during the 1970s and 1980s, Beijing had slowly but deliberately increased contacts with its one-time enemies in Seoul. The PRC’s new approach to South Korea had led not only to the normalization of relations between the two countries but also to a dynamic and rapidly expanding trade partnership. At the dawn of the twenty-first century, many were even predicting that China would replace the United States as the Republic of Korea’s (ROK) closest ally. This chapter traces the evolution of China’s Korea policy between 1968 and 2000. It shows how Beijing gradually adopted a new approach to the Korean peninsula that reflected the Chinese Communist Party’s (CCP) growing pragmatism in managing relations with the outside world during this period. Ideological considerations gave way to the demands of promoting economic development and convincing the rest of Asia that China was genuinely devoted to a “peaceful rise.” I argue that by the early 1970s, China’s Korea policy came to focus on two key objectives. First, the PRC sought to ensure that the Korean peninsula remained stable. An uneasy truce had prevailed there since the Korean War ended with the signing of an armistice in 163 Wampler text.indb 163 3/27/12 1:42 PM 164 trilateralism and beyond 1953. In the meantime, occasional provocations by North and South Korea continued to stir fears among both Chinese and Americans about the possibility of being drawn into another devastating conflict in Korea. By the late 1960s, both Washington and Beijing realized that they had a common interest in preventing another military confrontation on the peninsula. After Nixon’s visit to China in 1972, the PRC increasingly sought to discourage North Korean adventurism and promote dialogue between the two Koreas. Second, Beijing consistently looked to strengthen its influence over the Korean peninsula. Chinese leaders pursued this goal by reinvigorating the PRC’s friendship with Pyongyang, slowly expanding contacts with South Korea and seeking to exclude Japanese and Soviet influence from Korea to the greatest extent possible. These shifts in policy resulted in Beijing’s dramatic reemergence as a key actor in Korean affairs. Improving Ties with the DPRK China’s efforts to improve its shattered relations with its erstwhile ally North Korea were really the first signs of change in Chinese policy toward the Korean peninsula. Before the PRC could begin reaching out to the United States and South Korea, it first needed to put its relations with the DPRK back on a sound footing. Continuing frictions between Beijing and Pyongyang would have made it extremely difficult for CCP leaders to discuss Korean issues with the United States or make even minor shifts in their policy toward the ROK. But by 1969, repairing all of the damage done to China’s ties with its neighbor had grown into a fairly substantial task. The early years of the Cultural Revolution had weakened the close bonds forged between the PRC and DPRK during the Korean War. Although during the 1950s and early 1960s Chinese officials had become fond of saying that Beijing and Pyongyang were as close as “lips and teeth,” there was little evidence of such kinship after 1965. Between 1965 and 1969, the two countries completed no new economic or cultural agreements, and their high-level officials did not coordinate even one exchange of visits. Popular media in both countries reflected the...


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