Indeed, China seemed to have shifted from pressuring North Korea with the military relationship
to buttressing the DPRK regime’s security and survival. In mid-August 2003, Wen Wei Po (a
PRC-owned newspaper in Hong Kong) published an article questioning whether the PRC-North
Korean alliance under the 1961 Treaty of Friendship, Cooperation, and Mutual Assistance
continued to serve China’s interest. China took steps that appeared to pressure North Korea,
including using the PLA. In September 2003, China replaced paramilitary People’s Armed Police
(PAP) troops with PLA soldiers along its border with North Korea, as confirmed by the PRC
Foreign Ministry and the official People’s Daily (September 16, 2003), apparently to warn North
Korea against provocations to raise tensions. Reports appeared in 2006 to confirm the PLA’s
construction of fencing along the border, although that construction reportedly had started in
2003. The Defense Department’s 2004 report to Congress on PRC military power skeptically
critiqued that China “avoided taking real steps to pressure North Korea.” Nonetheless, the report
confirmed that “as a potential hedge against uncertainty, the PLA assumed responsibility for
border security along the northeast frontier in fall 2003, increasing security along the porous
border with North Korea and strengthening China’s ability to stem refugee flows or respond to a
breakdown of the North Korean regime.”
Reuters, December 13, 2009; Wall Street Journal, December 22, 2009; Yomiuri Shimbun, January 10, 2010; Reuters,
February 22, 2010 AFP, February 25, 2010; Chosun Ilbo, March 10, 2010; Asahi Shimbun, July 20, 2010.
Telegraph, May 12; Reuters, May 14; New York Times, May 14; Kyodo, May 17; Reuters, May 18, 2011.
Wang Jisi as quoted in Korea Herald, Seoul, February 24, 2010.
Defense Department, “Report on PRC Military Power,” May 29, 2004.
China and Proliferation of Weapons of Mass Destruction and Missiles: Policy Issues
Congressional Research Service 30
At the same time, China pursued military contacts with the United States (including Secretary of
Defense Donald Rumsfeld’s visit to Beijing in October 2005), even while China’s traditional
military friendship with North Korea showed greater candor. When PRC ruler Hu Jintao visited
Pyongyang in October 2005 and Kim Jong Il visited China in January 2006, PRC media
downplayed Hu’s third position as Chairman of the Central Military Commission (CMC) (in
addition to other positions as Communist Party General-Secretary and PRC President). On March
9, 2006, General B.B. Bell, Commander of U.S. Forces Korea, testified to the House Armed
Services Committee that PRC-North Korean military engagement was “quite low” and that
despite the friendship treaty, “the amount of military support that the PRC provides to the North
is minimal.” The PLA hosted the May 2006 visit of Admiral William Fallon, Commander of the
Pacific Command, to the Shenyang Military Region (close to the border with North Korea).
PRC Defense Minister and CMC Vice Chairman Cao Gangchuan visited North Korea in April
2006 for three days. But he did not get an audience with Kim Jong Il, raised the controversy of
the DPRK’s nuclear program, and then visited South Korea for five days in the same month. Just
months after General Cao’s visit, Pyongyang tested a Taepo Dong-2 missile in July 2006 and a
nuclear device in October 2006. When the top PLA officer and another CMC Vice Chairman,
General Guo Boxiong, visited Washington in July 2006, he criticized North Korea’s July 4
missile test, even citing the UNSC’s Resolution that condemned the test. Further indicating
strains, on the day after the DPRK’s nuclear test on October 9, 2006, the PRC Foreign Ministry
publicly said that the test had a “negative impact” on PRC-DPRK ties and denied that China was
North Korea’s “ally.” A PRC-owned newspaper in Hong Kong reported that PLA and PAP troops
were on high alert at the PRC-DPRK border.
On October 16, the PLA commemorated the death
of a soldier who was killed by North Korean soldiers a year earlier.
However, following Pyongyang’s second nuclear test in May 2009, PRC Defense Minister Liang
Guanglie visited North Korea for five days on November 22-27. General Liang reportedly
recalled that he was a veteran of the Korean War in which PRC-DPRK friendship was “sealed in
blood.” He met with Kim Jong Il but did not mention North Korea’s nuclear program or
denuclearization, in contrast to reporting of Defense Minister Cao’s visit in 2006.
After South Korea announced on May 20, 2010, an international finding that North Korea
attacked South Korea’s naval ship, Cheonan, on March 26, killing 46 sailors, CMC Vice
Chairman Guo Boxiong visited the Shenyang Military Region apparently in early June, including
its troops at the border with North Korea. In July, the PLA also “opposed” U.S.-ROK maritime
exercises in the whole Yellow Sea, seemingly supporting the DPRK which was the target of the
exercises to enhance deterrence and defense. In August, the PRC Executive Vice Minister of
Public Security Liu Jing visited North Korea to hold talks and donate equipment to the Ministry
of People’s Security which was identified as under the National Defense Commission. At a higher
level, PRC Minister of Public Security Meng Jianzhu visited Pyongyang on February 13-14,
2011, arriving two days after people in Egypt ousted President Hosni Mubarak. Minister Meng
signed an agreement to cooperate with the DPRK, before he got a meeting with Kim Jong Il.
Wen Wei Po, October 13, 2006.
South China Morning Post, October 17, 2006.