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[ 65 ] roundtable • pursuing security in a dynamic northeast asia China’s Strategies and Goals toward Northeast Asia Kenneth Lieberthal China regards Northeast Asia not only as vitally important but now also as a region of considerable strategic uncertainty. The recent North Korean nuclear test increased that uncertainty considerably. The People’s Republic of China (PRC) approaches Northeast Asia within the context of a national strategy that posits as China’s top priority domestic growthanddevelopment.China’sforeignpolicyinsubstantialmeasurederives from the imperatives of this overall domestic focus. The PRC is employing increasingly sophisticated diplomacy, economic muscle, and military capability internationally to assure China’s access to necessary energy and raw material supplies, to reduce threats of conflict in China’s neighborhood, and to maintain relatively unfettered access to international markets for China’s own exports and investments. In Northeast Asia in particular, China hopes to increase regional economic cooperation (even while engaging in serious economic competition with these states elsewhere), to reduce the chances of instability, and to dampen the prospects for a strong U.S.-Japan alliance to assume a fundamentally anti-Chinese posture. Strategy to Date Beijing has worked assiduously to strengthen China’s economic ties with the three major players in Northeast Asia: the United States, Japan, and South Korea. China is now the largest trade partner of both the Republic of Korea (ROK) and Japan and is the largest Asian trade partner of the United States. The Japanese and ROK economic relations with China are an integral part of a regionally integrated manufacturing system that has taken shape fully since 2000 and in which firms in countries like Japan and South Korea export high value-added parts and components to China (often to their own firms there), add typically 20–35% value in China, and then export the finished products to North America and Europe. This regional economic dynamic has proceeded apace despite particular political frictions and has contributed significantly to Kenneth G. Lieberthal is Arthur F. Thurnau Professor of Business Administration, William Davidson Professor of Political Science, and Distinguished Fellow of the William Davidson Institute at the University of Michigan. He is also currently a Non-resident Senior Fellow in Foreign Policy Studies at the Brookings Institution. Previously, he served as Special Assistant to the President of the United States for National Security Affairs and Senior Director for Asia at the National Security Council (NSC) from August 1998 to October 2000. He is available at . [ 66 ] asia policy the growth in demand that has helped get Japan’s economy out of its ten-year slump beginning in the early 1990s. Beijing has confronted a situation in which tensions surrounding North Korea have threatened to destabilize the Korean peninsula. President Bush’s approach to North Korea from his first days in office signaled a far more confrontational approach than the Clinton administration had followed. Japan both grew strategically closer to the United States and became more prepared to take a tough line toward North Korea. And Kim Jong-Il, as is his wont, responded with renewed efforts to expand his nuclear and missile capabilities. Beijing has sought two goals regarding North Korea: to keep open the possibility of a nuclear-free Korean peninsula and to prevent destabilization of North Korea itself. The former goal is clearly in China’s interest. Nuclear weapons development by either Japan or the ROK would in no way benefit the PRC. The latter goal is even more important to Beijing. China has feared that the consequences of destabilization in North Korea are highly unpredictable. Destabilization might involve massive refugee flows into China and—more ominously—could trigger civil war (and loose nukes) in North Korea, requiring Chinese intervention. It could also lead conceivably to a united Korea with U.S. forces closer to China’s own border. Common to all these scenarios is the imposition of enormous long-term costs, not only on the ROK but very likely on the rest of the region as well, to bring North Korea up to the level of a reasonably stable state and society. All of this holds risks for the PRC’s priority on China’s own economic development. China has not in recent years been...


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