2003 July 09 Wednesday
On China's Aid To North Korea And Sanctions

How much aid does China give to North Korea? How much leverage does that aid give China over North Korea's behavior? What leverage does China really want over North Korea and toward what ends? Alexandr Nemets and John L. Scherer provide aid figures from 2000.

Beijing increased its economic support of Pyongyang following the May 2000 meeting. Exports from China to North Korea - primarily crude oil, oil products, grain and food items - jumped from around $330 million in 1999 to a little more than $450 million in 2000. Chinese imports from North Korea decreased from nearly $42 million to $37 million. Exports minus imports amount to subsidies from Beijing to Pyongyang, and these grew from $288 million to $413 million.

The CIA World Factbook 2002 provides no amount for Chinese aid to North Korea.

$NA; note - nearly $300 million in food aid alone from US, South Korea, Japan, and EU in 2001 plus much additional aid from the UN and non-governmental organizations

The Korea Times reports China supplies most of North Korea's energy and almost half its food.

One dilemma for Beijing is that should not loosen its grip over Pyongyang because that would weaken its influence in the region. Bearing this in mind, China cut off its crude oil supply to the North for three days just before the trilateral talks in March, a reportedly diplomatic warning. It supplies 70 percent of North Korea’s energy and 40 percent of its food.

As for why is China giving North Korea aid: My guess is that they are doing it simply to prop up the regime. They are not gaining any leverage over the North Koreans that restrains the Pyongyang regime's behavior. Writing for The Christian Science Monitor Jasper Becker reports that scholars trolling thru Eastern European and Soviet archives from the Cold War era found Eastern bloc countries gained very little leverage over North Korean behavior in exchange for their aid.

"It shows how dependent North Korea has always been, and how extremely skillful it has always been at getting enough aid," says Kathryn Weathersby, who runs the Korea Initiative as part of the Woodrow Wilson Center's Cold War International History Project in Washington.

"It also shows that over the decades, China and Russia gave a lot of aid but gained very limited leverage," she says.

Only a cessation of aid would give China a significant amount of leverage over North Korea. But to get that leverage the Chinese would probably have to allow the situation in North Korea to become desperate. China seems unlikely to do that.

Time magazine has an excellent article on what the US and allies are trying to do to cut off weapons parts sources, weapons exports, and other aspects of North Korean trade. Toward the end of the article there's a telling comment about China's refusal to stop the North Korean arms trade flights over China.

Ultimately, choking off North Korea's trade will depend upon participation of its two traditional allies and major trading partners—China and Russia. Senior U.S. officials, according to sources, are constantly wheedling China to deny overflight rights to suspicious planes exiting North Korea, without success. Last week, China and Russia blocked a proposed condemnation of North Korea's nuclear arms program by the U.N. Security Council.

China is not just trying to prop up the North Korean regime by providing aid. The Chinese are actively facilitating North Korea's arms trade. Since that trade appears to include North Korean assistance to the Iranian nuclear weapons development program the Beijing regime is effectively conspiring with North Korea to help Iran develop nuclear weapons.

The United States has responded by forming an 11 nation group called the Proliferation Security Initiative made up of Australia, the US, Canada, Britain, France, Germany, Spain, Poland, Portugal, Japan and the Netherlands. By the way, what country (aside, of course, from China) is notably missing from that list? South Korea won't join the Proliferation Security Initiative. (joking aside to Robert Koehler: Yes, South Korea is not on friendly nations lists that I make). Well, Proliferation Security Initiative needs to be able to shut down North Korea's arms and arms technology trade. But if the US wants to proceed according to international law (at least according to international law as assorted US allies interpret it) some US allies such as Australia would prefer UN backing for sanctions. Of course, China and probably Russia as well would block a Security Council Resolution. Australian Foreign Minister Alexander Downer has floated the idea of creating a multi-country agreement outside of UN jurisdiction that would give an appearance of international law to a sanctions regime against North Korea.

"We need to work through a lot of that and see whether there's a need to change international law or whether we could put together some sort of international convention that countries would voluntarily sign up to and having signed up to the convention would take on certain obligations to address the problem of this trade," he said.

US Under Secretary of State John Bolton is talking a tougher game.

JOHN BOLTON, US UNDER-SECRETARY FOR ARMS CONTROL: We want to let the proliferators know that we're going to go beyond words and treaties and agreements. We will take action to defend ourselves against the spread of weapons of mass destruction.

One incredibly handy aspect of US air bases in Central Asia is that US aircraft could probably intercept aircraft travelling between North Korea and Iran.

The plans under discussion could even eventually lead to the scenario of PSI coalition members forcing suspicious aircraft to divert course and land.

The only possible obstacle might be Pakistan. Flights could follow a path that passes directly from China to Pakistan. But if Pakistan will let the US intercept flights bound for Iran then the North Korean airborne trade with Iran could be cut off.

Bottom line: China and South Korea aren't going to help. The US and some allies may move without their acquiesence and without UN blessings to do air and sea-based interception of North Korean trade headed for the Middle East.

Share |      By Randall Parker at 2003 July 09 07:36 PM  Korea

The Marmot said at July 10, 2003 11:06 PM:

Some excellent material here - thanks for putting it up.

North Korea's "allies" have complained for years (and in some cases, decades) about the North's rather peculiar take on the whole "patron-client" relationship. I remember reading an interview with a Chinese military atache in Pyongyang who complained that he had spent ten years in the country and still didn't know anything (coincidentally, I also heard that during the late 90s, the staff at the Chinese Embassy in Pyongyang were raising fish in the bathtubs for food). Of course, there are those of us who see the same patterns of behavior in the North Koreans' southern brothers - at times, it seems as if Seoul thinks the Americans should be honored by being allowed to keep 32,000 troops in South Korea to deter an attack on that country from the North. Part of this lays with the belief, passionately held by the elites in both Koreas, that their little peninsula is (or will be) the CENTER OF THE ENTIRE WORRRRRRRRRLD - and as such, foreigners should count themselves lucky just to have contact with Korea (either one of them). In South Korea, it was (and, in light of recent events unbelievably, still is) commonly accepted that US troops would never leave Korea because, as the logic went, Korea is SO important to America that it couldn't hope to maintain its superpower status without a commanding presence on the peninsula. Same goes for economic relations - the IMF bailout of South Korea in 1997 was seen, depending on your ideological persuasion, as either a) an imperialist attempt by the Evil Empire to control the South Korean economy or b) an attempt to protect the American economy because, as everyone knows (or at least so went the line of thinking in Korea), the American economy would collapse if the all-important Korean market went belly-up. Ditto South Korea's neo-mercantalist trade relations with just about every other country on the planet. So it surprises me none at all that the North Koreans should tool around their allies in such a way as well. My guess is that North Korea goes out of its way to make Beijing feel priviledged to foot Pyongyang's bill.

Still, one has to wonder how much longer Beijing is going to take getting jerked around. Yes, the Chinese are using the Norks as leverage against the Americans, but at the same time, I'm sure Beijing doesn't want to get dragged into some North Korean-inspired mess if it can help it. Beijing's leverage vis-a-vis Moscow has increased significantly since the demise of the Soviet Union; Pyongyang no longer can work the Sino-Soviet split, and its (pathetic) attempts to offset the loss of Soviet aid by extorting aid from the West haven't been overly sucessful. Despite what many people are saying, the Chinese are being extremely unhelpful, and you've done a great job of pointing that out. My question is, how long can they maintain that attitude without suffering geopolitical disaster?

Tekdemon said at September 9, 2004 3:46 PM:

I don't think it's in China's interest for NK to have nuclear weapons, so I think the claim that China is using NK to help funnel nuclear tech to Iran is a little bit unrealistic...NK's couple of nukes right now is already problematic for China since NK is not a particularly grateful or leveragable country. So it really makes very little sense to keep giving them more nuclear technology and aid strategically.

Joe said at December 19, 2004 9:52 AM:

The Real Reason Why Is Refugees, North Koreans Come In And Live Illegally Which Is A Problem For The Country Since It Hurts The Economy With People Paying Them Under The Table Taking Away Labor For The Country. China Is Just Trying To Keep Alive The North So It May Not Collapse And Invite 30 Million Refugees Flooding The Country And Since North Korea Wouldn't Be A Country By Then, Those Koreans Would Officially Be Considered Refugees Costing Billions To The Government To Move Them And So On. Under Certain Laws Only North Koreans In China Are Illigal, But Once The Treaty Is Gone, Darn There Going To Be A Huge Invasion.

Deniro11 said at April 11, 2009 4:26 AM:

we give food and oil to this scum bag dictactor while he makes weapons developes nuclear bombs and kills his people starves them and yet we as a world still give over 1.3 billon in aid to this mad man and his socialist state that is ruled with a IRON FIST this is so so wrong god help us we are so stupid North Korea should be wiped off the map

rebecca10 said at November 16, 2009 2:52 AM:

if we stopped supplying aid to North Korea the consequences would be dire. They would most likely launch a nuclear attack. Yes, it seems stupid that we give them so much aid, and that they have so much power over us, but the situation is considerably tricky, and cannot be solved easily. Things would've been a lot easier had former President Bush not labelled North Korea in his "axis of evil" speech, in fact if that speech had not occured at all then THAT would've been better.
The onther thing you have to bear in mind is that the media is totally censored. the people of north korea do not know what is going on outside the world, yes they might understand that they're starving, but essentially they're brainwashed by their dictator - who they look up to as a god. When the power cuts out in Norht Korea (n.k) the government tells the people that it is because of the United States. they fuel anti-us-sentiment and thus the the north-koreans are glad that they're govenment has weapons powerful enough to manipulate the US and her followers.
anyways, these were Fantastic statistics - very helpful!! :)
china is so secretive with her spending, that it's good to get an idea.

Annabelle Lindner said at November 23, 2010 4:37 AM:

Giving money to countries like North Korea is absolutely ridiculous. I for one (and by the way most main stream Americans) are sick and tired of working and sending money to the Federal government so they can continue to give money to countries who hate us and act like spoiled children. The aid given has made no difference in these countries (not the difference we want - they have used the money for fostering their political wars and dreams of mass destruction). Meanwhile the US debt is climbinb and climbing. The US government should put a complete moratorium on foreign aid for 20 years. I suspect when these foreign countries quit receiving money they will shape right up. The government should give this a try since our actions over the last 20 years have truly been worthless. (Oh yes, and the process has made our dollar almost worthless). What a trade off!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

gary Lund said at April 4, 2011 12:20 AM:

Bomb the bridges from china into nnorth korea.

Jody B said at August 13, 2013 8:05 AM:

I'm getting so sick of these a-holes tho, I say If they want to bomb, let em! We will KILL you. For sure, mmm-kay? So take your sobbing little baby shit & figure out how to grow some food & go out & get a job if they have to! I mean, McDonald's is always hiring. If you wanna go to all your little basketball games & you & your friends wanna drink hundreds of bottles of that expensive wine you always drink, you're gonna have to pay for that yourself! And then you steal other people's food-and they're not just hungry-they're DYING! And you won't give it to them even tho it was FOR them?! OMG-you're a total fucker! And NOW I find out you have 200,000 people locked up & they do all this work for you, but dude! If you're gonna enslave your people, at LEAST have them make something you can make money on!! Duh! Ok, obviously, you're an idiot. I woulda had that shit done a long time ago.. And also if you FEED peop
le they'll be better workers! Duh-ah! What have you been doin this whole time? Smokin weed? Goin to parties? Gettin hiiiigh? Oh, you've been... Building a WHAT!?! A bomb?? A bomb. What are you gonna do with a flippin bomb?! Bomb people to oblivion? Ok, I have had ENOUGH of this. You know what? Go get your bomb. Yep, get that & get all your stuff because I am NOT going to support this any longer! And then come BACK & bring that bomb of yours cuz I'm gonna show you what a bomb's REALLY ABOUT!! Uh-ha! That's what I'd say if I were North Korea's mom. I know they will all get theirs in Hell, but seriously, the things the people in charge there do there are so horrifically evil & the people's hearts are so cold that I just want to show them that they can't just sit round begging for money to feed the people who are dying & then basically keep it to themselves so they can turn around the next day & fly into LA for a basketball game & vaycay with all the lavish luxuries they could ever want. You ain't broke if you're doin all that! Like, who ARE they anyway? Why does anyone care that this family stays in power? Theoretically, ANYONE could be President! Sure they have the nuke, but I'm sure they don't sit there staring at it 24/7. They could restrict their access to it if done quietly. Right? Like, China, you can HAVE North Korea, just not these guys. Please?

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