China and Conflict on the Korean Peninsula: The Return of the Great Powers Conference in Leeds

On July 3, I’ll be giving a paper at a conference of historians and policy makers at the University of Leeds on a subject near and dear to the hearts of many readers. The abstract follows:

The Korean peninsula is regarded as northeast Asia’s key flashpoint, not only for inter-Korean violence, but possible US-China conflict. As the North Korean leadership continues to push forward with its ‘byungjin line’ of nuclear weapons development, the US ‘pivots’ to Asia and China’s regional balance of power continues to grow, what are the prospects for a wider war breaking out in Korea? This paper will lay out the salient issues and drill down into China’s strategic calculus with North Korea, discussing how the discourse is slowly changing, even as the communist allies remain locked into patterns of cooperation dating back to before the Korean War.


I. Power Relations in Northeast Asia

A. China’s neo-tributary goals mixed with neo-Mahanian rhetoric

‘sadae’ (submission to the great)

B. Tyranny of the Weak

II. North Korea’s Nuclear Programme

A. Tests & miniaturization

B. Kim Jong-un as the new face of an old system

C. Changes since December 2012

– ‘Nukes and Peace,’ Rodong Sinmun

III. External Responses

A. Republic of Korea / Park Geun-hye

B. China  / Xi Jinping & Li Keqiang

C. Japan / Abe Shinzo

IV. Conclusion – A Word about Sources

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