Chinese Security Guarantees and the Future of North Korean Economic Reforms

Even without launching a missile or creating a nuclear earthquake, the North Korean state certainly knows how to pull off a surprise. Wednesday’s event at the Chinese Embassy in Pyongyang, announced by the Chinese Foreign Ministry and mirrored by events in Beijing, Shenyang, Dandong, and Chongjin (as reported by the KCNA yesterday), was a case in point.

The unexpected event was the celebration of the 57th anniversary of the Sino-North Korean Treaty of Friendship, Cooperation, and Mutual Assistance – a document first signed in 1961, which, like the suddenly-fragile NATO alliance, commits the signatories to aiding the other in the event of an external attack.

Since the treaty played no role whatsoever in the public readouts of the Kim-Xi summits, and since relations had reached such a low point in the year prior, many analysts had assumed the treaty would lapse when it came up for renewal in 2021.

Lu Chao of the Liaoning Academy of Social Sciences told the Toronto Globe and Mail that China was no longer bound by the treaty to protect North Korea – doing so, no less, at the height of the very alarming April 2017 noise around a possible American “bloody nose” strike on North Korea. Pyongyang’s ears were surely listening carefully to Lu, and any related sounds coming from Chinese think tanks and Party intellectuals, to divine China’s intentions with respect to the treaty.

The full essay is available here at NK News (possible paywall). Image: Yang Hyong-sop speaking at the PRC Embassy in Pyongyang, July 2018, via PRC Foreign Ministry.