An Historical Perspective on the China-North Korea Border

David C. Kang is professor of international relations and business, and director of the Korean Studies Institute, at the University of Southern California. His latest book is East Asia before the West: Five Centuries of Trade and Tribute (Columbia University Press, 2010).

The Border between China and North Korea, at Tumen.

The Border between China and North Korea, at the Tumen.

The past few years have seen increasing attention – mostly critical – to China’s relations with North Korea. In both South Korea and the U.S., policymakers, scholars, and other observers believe that China should do more to make North Korea behave more responsibly and are quite critical when China avoids pressuring or criticizing North Korean behavior. On the other hand, there is an underlying fear in South Korea that China intends to extend formal or informal Chinese control onto the Korean peninsula. Indeed, one of the main arguments some Chinese have been making for including the ancient kingdom of Koguryo (37 BC – 668 AD) as part of Chinese history is that Koguryo had entered into “tributary relations” with various states located in China. Although the Chinese have been careful to emphasize that they were talking only about Koguryo and not about Paekche and Silla, nonetheless they may believe that a precedent has been set.

So on the one hand we want China to control North Korea, on the other hand we fear that China may actually do it. Continue reading at the CSIS Korea Chair Platform.

Photo by Flickr user El Generalissimo, used under a Creative Commons license.


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