China as Mediator in US-North Korea Relations: Friend or Foe?
The North Korean threat against the United States has persisted and intensified over the last 50 years as the DPRK has advanced and weaponized its nuclear capabilities. Despite the efforts of several administrations, the United States has been unsuccessful in deterring the proliferation of WMDs. But now, as North Korea is more capable than ever of launching a devastating attack on the United States, it is time for a new approach – one that is tough on rogue behavior and one that no longer gives China the benefit of the doubt. This paper examines China’s role as friend and foe and suggests a path forward through three key changes in U.S. policy toward the DPRK: 1) a realistic look at China’s duplicitous role in U.S.-DPRK relations and a full embrace of Chinese engagement; 2) smarter diplomacy; 3) revisions to our current military policy.
The North Korean threat against the United States has persisted and intensified over the last 50 years as the nation has made enormous leaps, weaponizing its nuclear technology and building a program capable of delivering a crippling blow to the United States and its allies. Since the inception of the DPRK, multiple strategic policy approaches – including negotiations, military threats, diplomacy, and sanctions – have failed to create a sustainable relationship.
North Korea is much more than a small, poor country in East Asia: it is a prison of tragic human rights abuses, despotic communism, and rogue weapons proliferation. Furthermore, its border is the most “heavily fortified conflict zone” in our modern world. Distinguished by its unique philosophy of Juche, North Korea is rarely perturbed by international outrage, sanctions, and threats. Generally, North Korea only heeds international warnings when big brother China takes disciplinary action, though this is a rare and complicated matter on its own. The normal rules of diplomacy: common interest, patience, and preservation of life don’t apply in this context.
Unfortunately for the U.S., the bottom line is that China is a major player in the game of taming North Korea. This is the reality now, but it will become even more clear if North Korea ever faces instability. China will be the first to step in. But if the U.S. plays its cards right, it can use the China-DPRK relationship to its advantage. For this reason, it is imperative that the U.S. adopt a policy that first highlights the role of China, and second, modifies our diplomatic and military strategies.
North Korea and the Problem it Poses
North Korea poses a number of problems for the international community. First and foremost, the DPRK has a long track record of human rights abuses. It also engages in terrorist activities against its southern counterpart. Additionally, its nefarious activities and odd bond with China aggravate the power dynamic in Asia. These nuisances could be overlooked only if North Korea did not produce, test, and weaponize nuclear technology.
The heart of the issue is that North Korea views its WMD program as more than just a projection of power like other nations; for the DPRK, nuclear weapons are the key to regime survival. Flanked by a heavy enemy military presence just across the border and U.S. hegemonic influence in the region, North Korea’s leaders sincerely believe that the best bet for staving off imperialist invasions is a fearsome WMD program. The DPRK has repeatedly refused to comply with international non-proliferation treaties. Sometimes, the regime even signs these agreements then undertakes missile testing in open defiance.
In the case of North Korea, it is imperative to understand the national narrative when considering negotiations: as aforementioned, the DPRK’s WMD program is perceived as critical to the survival of the regime, and therefore, the country.  Embracing this national narrative – that North Korea’s nuclear arsenal is imperative for survival – has the potential to lead to more successful bargaining and can also explain why the United States and its allies have historically failed in negotiations when demanding full denuclearization as a precondition for all talks. Indeed, several countries have engaged in a multilateral pursuit of solidifying a non-proliferation strategy with North Korea, but every diplomatic endeavor has resulted in failure. The Agreed Framework ended abruptly in 2002 amid growing mutual hostility and years later, the Six Party Talks broke down after short-lived initial success when North Korea completed a rocket launch.
China’s Historic Role
Since the Korean War, China has historically remained North Korea’s closest ally and advocate, though recent events have strained the two’s relationship because China is often left scrambling to rectify North Korea’s rash provocations in order to maintain regional stability. But as pestilent as North Korea can be, the geopolitical reality is that it serves as a strategic buffer state between China and the West. This buffer is so critical to Chinese peace of mind that any U.S. incursion is guaranteed to be met with extreme hostility. Indeed, throughout the Korean war, Chinese leaders reiterated over and over again the unequivocal importance of defending North Korea, despite the sacrifice it meant for the young and developing country:
“[Defeating] American aggression against the Korean people is not just a matter for the Korean people but is for all peace-loving people around the world, particularly the Chinese people, who have a close interest in the matter. The slogan ‘to resist America and aid Korea and defend the country’ fully embodies this sense.”
To maintain this buffer, China is interested in preserving the status quo. Author James Reilly effectively summarizes China’s major priorities regarding North Korea in his article “China’s Korea Diplomacy”: the nonproliferation of the DPRK’s nuclear program, regime stability, border security, and economic reforms. All of these goals have an end of protecting China from the U.S. presence in South Korea, keeping North Korean aggression in check, and maintaining regional hegemony.
North Korea’s Nuclear Program and Its Implications for China
It is in China’s best interest that North Korea ends its nuclear programs, or at least complies with international treaties on nuclear nonproliferation. Though nuclear weapons inherently act as a deterrent for hostility, they often aggravate neighboring countries and spur arms races. Despite this invested interest in North Korean denuclearization, China was initially hesitant to act as enforcer. Chinese foreign policy expert Patricia Kim attributes this to two things: “China’s long-standing belief that the stability of the North Korean state was essential to [its] security interests, and [China’s] opposition to international sanctions in the name of non-interference.” But China’s lackadaisical approach shifted in the early 2000s with President George Bush’s insistence that China take part in U.S.-DPRK negotiations. China has since played a considerable role in multilateral negotiations and has participated in all major summits while maintaining its balancing act of placating all parties.
East Asia’s borders were fluid for centuries as conquerors stormed in and out, and today, land is still disputed. The border between North Korea and China is nearly 800 miles long and stretches from the Yalu River to the Russian-DPRK border. China’s territorial disputes with North Korea center principally around three areas: the sacred Mount Paektu, the Yalu River, and the surrounding seas. These disagreements add to the tension between the two countries but have overall not resulted in any major conflict.
The large border allows easy access for freedom-hungry North Koreans to attempt an escape through China. A standing agreement between the two countries – a bilateral border protocol – classifies North Korean defectors as “illegal economic migrants” and obligates Chinese authorities to return the refugees to the DPRK. It is no secret that these repatriations often end in torture or death. Therefore, democracies, NGOs, and international organizations have put an immense amount of pressure on China to change its policy of returning North Korean refugees. As China is already in the spotlight for various human rights abuses including laogais and persecution against the Uyghurs, this protocol only worsens its reputation. But when China facilitated a prominent DPRK government official’s escape to South Korea in 1997, it created serious tensions between the two countries.
Economic Reforms and Regime Stability
North Korea believes that China betrayed true Communist ideology when President Deng Xiaoping implemented economic reforms which eventually catapulted China to the status of a world leader. North Korea has failed to initiate this same “openness” – largely due to its Juche philosophy – and has suffered greatly as a consequence. China serves as North Korea’s principal source of trade, money, and aid, and it is this free-flowing assistance that upholds the DPRK’s dictatorial regime. Without China’s help, North Korea would collapse, and Korea would likely unify on joint South Korean-American terms. Furthermore, any instability or collapse would likely send millions of refugees over the border into China.
The Dual Threat Model as an Explanation for Chinese Hesitancy
China’s invested interest in North Korea’s survival complicates the matter of responding to and disciplining the DPRK’s provocations and aggression. Sometimes China aligns itself with the United States and pushes sanctions against North Korea; other times, the PRC refuses to react and turns a blind eye. What is the rationale behind this fluctuating policy? Jooyoung Song, in his article titled “Understanding China’s Response to North Korea’s Provocations,” suggests his own Dual Threats Model as a cause of this behavior, asserting that “China only responds when Pyongyang’s activities heighten the possibility of U.S. military response, and as long as Pyongyang remains stable.” China really only took an active role in U.S.-DPRK relations after Operation Iraqi Freedom when the sting of American invasion was still poignant. This quick and decisive military action spurred China and North Korea to cooperate out of fear that the United States would launch another attack, this time in Asia. This Dual Threats paradigm reinforces the idea that China’s main interest is in cultivating a stable north Korea in order to maintain a buffer between China and the strong U.S. presence in Japan and South Korea.
Song argues that the possibility of U.S. military action against North Korea concerns China for two reasons: first and foremost, the proximity of the DPRK to China is a major reason why China will do whatever it must to prevent conflict; additionally, instability on the Korean peninsula may serve as an excuse for the United States to exert dominance over the entire region. The threat of American hegemony is intensified with the recent construction of missile defense systems in South Korea. Therefore, China will typically ignore North Korea’s incitements unless “Beijing perceives that Pyongyang’s provocations might elicit an American military response.” If it appears that the United States will not bother with bolstered military activities, China will overlook its neighbor’s actions. The second part of the Dual Threats Model pertains to China’s willingness to punish the DPRK only if it will not destabilize the regime. Simply put, China will not participate in sanctions if the North Korean regime is in the midst of a famine or other crisis.
Despite the ostensible duplicity of China’s approach to the DPRK, it is simply doing what it must to preserve its own interests. Instead of taking a back seat, the United States can learn from this and capitalize on China’s involvement.
U.S.-DPRK Relations, Failures and Successes
There is a long list of U.S. policy failures in the seven decades since the founding of the DPRK. One customary U.S. response to North Korea’s provocations is the imposition of sanctions intended to anger the masses and stir up internal discontent, make a statement of superior morality in reaction to human rights abuses, or coerce the DPRK to abandon its nuclear weapons. But these sanctions have largely failed, only strengthening the bond between North Korea and China, and giving cause to the former’s hatred for the United States and its obstinate request for full denuclearization. Instead of revealing to North Korea’s population the despotic and selfish nature of the regime, the sanctions have “created miserable economic conditions for tens of millions of people around the world that it intended to help.” The people of North Korea already suffer under the hand of their careless leader; sanctions only amplify the hardship.
Sanctions have been imposed by almost every U.S. president, but each administration has adopted an array of different policies toward the DPRK. A brief survey of the last few U.S. presidential policies toward North Korea is pertinent to understanding the scope of failure.
President George Bush referred to the DPRK as part of the “axis of evil” in his State-of-the-Union address and called for unambiguous Chinese engagement in negotiations but ultimately made no progress. President Obama adopted a policy known as “strategic patience.” As good as these intentions might have been, they did nothing to tame North Korea and, in fact, prompted multiple nuclear and rocket tests. President Trump, though the first sitting U.S. president to meet with a North Korean dictator, humiliated the United States and inadvertently glorified the DPRK when he traveled to the DMZ. On the other hand, Trump’s fiery insults and threats of military force frightened Kim Jong-un and persuaded Russia and China to back up U.S.-imposed sanctions. Thus far, the Biden administration has embraced a more moderate policy approach, offering small sanction relief with every step that North Korea takes toward denuclearization. Overall, the fluctuation of policy that is a result of the nature of our democracy and rotating leadership creates an inconsistent approach that changes every presidential term. Each administration is certainly entitled to its own personality, but it is necessary for the United States to create and pursue a coherent and persistent policy toward North Korea.
So, with this variety of approaches and no real achievements, what has succeeded? China will only stand firmly against North Korea when it commits an offense so grave that it triggers international pressure on China to respond. Otherwise, China remains North Korea’s duplicitous neighbor that passes food, oil, and aid under the table while maintaining face. The United States has found notable success when China participates in negotiations and backs up U.S.-imposed sanctions. Nothing else seems to faze North Korea’s leaders with the exception of the U.S. military presence in South Korea. The nearly 28,000-strong U.S. troop presence in South Korea serves as a deterrent for a North Korean invasion, and the joint exercises are a tactic of intimidation, though U.S. leaders claim it is only “defensive in nature.” The joint exercises take quite a toll on the dear leader, as is clear by the consistent discussion of the issue in negotiations. U.S. presidents, such as Trump, have often bargained for denuclearization by offering to scale down the joint troop exercises.
With this advantage in mind, it should be noted that there is a sweet spot for a U.S. military presence, and it can have consequences if the Kim regime feels threatened enough, as it will likely serve as a catalyst for nuclear development behind the claim of North Korean self-defense.
The Future of North Korea
There are three speculated outcomes for the future of North Korea: collapse, war, or the continuation of the status quo (which China hopes for). The probability of collapse is unlikely as China is the driving force of North Korea’s economy and will do whatever it takes to maintain regime stability. Author Suk Hi Kim also notes that collapse is unlikely because the United States policies that are formed to push North Korea in the direction of collapse have only succeeded in bolstering its fortitude and economy:
“[The United States’] strangulation policy has actually enabled North Korea to produce and sell more weapons internationally to replenish its economy. This exterior force has permitted the regime to cultivate a perpetual war mentality, galvanizing the population toward obedience.”
War is also unlikely, as the United States refuses to strike first, and North Korea will only do so if it feels backed into a corner. Judging on the historical reactions to North Korea’s provocations, no country is willing to take an absolute stance against North Korea – despite all the threats that have been made – and North Korea continues to act largely with impunity.
With war and collapse out of the question, and with China playing the role of strategic benefactor, the only likely possibility for the future of North Korea is the continuation of the status quo. So, what is next if this status quo is to remain? We are not at peace, and we don’t have full confidence that the DRPK will stabilize and agree to international nuclear treaties. In an attempt to answer this question, I suggest a path forward that considers China’s empirical role as both friend and foe, diplomacy that is creative and unified, and finally, a military policy that is more effective and credible.
Recommendations for the Future
- Be Realistic about China’s Role
If the United States seeks to engage effectively with North Korea, a serious look at China and its interests is not only in order, it is the most important step. It is well-known by now that China has a strategic stake in North Korea for several aforementioned reasons. Successful U.S. engagement with China in pursuit of a favorable outcome in North Korea would keep in mind a few things: it is critical first to accurately estimate China’s commitment to protecting its own national interests, second, to consider China’s past hesitancy to take a hard-line stance, and finally, to understand the limitations on China’s ability to influence and control North Korea at all times.
The United States and China obviously have different priorities for the future of North Korea. Whereas China’s main concern is the survival of the regime to prevent a major influx of refugees and a power vacuum which the United States would rush to fill, the White House would like to see complete denuclearization on the Korean peninsula and subordination to U.S.-led policy. If a collapse of the Kim regime happens to be a byproduct, well, the United States would not mind ridding the world of one of the last strongholds of communism. Clearly, these are divergent concerns. But the United States and China do have one desire in common: preventing all-out nuclear war. While complete North Korean denuclearization may not be possible, the United States and China can and should unite in solidarity on the principle of non-proliferation and international nuclear cooperation.
Cooperation is incredibly important, but not enough to ensure success. We cannot be blind to China’s historical duplicity when it comes to matters of North Korea. The United States must form a united front with China against North Korea on nonproliferation and should also do everything in its power to hold the PRC to this stance. This means accountability, which might involve discipline from international organizations. There is an inevitable end to cooperation with the Chinese, who aim to rival the United States and nurture ambitions for global domination. A unified stance against North Korean proliferation, backed up by mechanisms for Chinese accountability, is the first step.
Cooperation plus accountability will lead to success, but it is also imperative to understand the limits of Chinese influence. China’s power mostly lies in its status as North Korea’s only major trading partner and benefactor, but if the PRC was able to completely control North Korea, the problem would have been solved decades ago. A realistic approach considers the strategic importance of Chinese engagement and accountability, but also realizes the limits of Chinese power to act outside of its own interests and completely influence the Kim regime. Because of these limitations, this is where the next two steps come in.
- Adopt Smarter Diplomacy
The United States has failed miserably in negotiations with North Korea. Chuck Downs, author of “Over the Line,” calls North Korea’s negotiating strategy a unique phenomenon characterized by rigidity, a refusal to make any concessions, and sometimes, even outright verbal abuse. Downs criticizes Americans for their distinct politeness at the negotiation table, urging instead that the U.S. government open its eyes to the manipulation that runs rampant. Better negotiation strategies are the next step after engaging with China. This shift includes a true understanding of North Korea’s “national narrative” and negotiating strategies, as well as a departure from the decades-old demand of complete denuclearization. Finally, a long-term strategy despite the revolving door of our democratic government is necessary for success.
First and foremost, it must be understood that North Korea does not abide by propriety; the normal rules of diplomacy are simply not applicable. This unique situation calls for a unique approach: the United States needs to get a little creative. I am not advocating here for participating in vituperation; however, we would benefit from understanding the DPRK’s uncompromising negotiation policy, enabling us to beat them at their own game. Instead of capitulating to their absurd demands, we must stand firm and play smart. This might include employing creative tools of statecraft, influence operations, and public diplomacy, which could “significantly widen the bandwidth of pressure into an area the regime is most vulnerable to—internal pressure. The United States’ current public diplomacy efforts should be expanded to encourage North Koreans to broaden their perspectives and foster change.”
Additionally, it is time to leave behind the tried and failed pursuit of complete denuclearization. A true understanding of North Korea’s national narrative reveals that the Kim regime will not surrender its nuclear weapons under any circumstances. Embracing North Korea as a nuclear state has its own consequences, but the United States needs to rip the band-aid off and call it what it is. Once we acknowledge the DPRK’s nuclear capabilities, we can make firm demands for non-proliferation and accountability. Indeed, our denial has only resulted in nuclear buildup.
The final component for better diplomacy is a unified approach and long-term strategy. Democracy is unique because it creates room for new and dynamic perspectives. But the U.S. presidential policies that change every four to eight years – sometimes radically– stand in stark contrast to the hard-line stance taken by the Kims over three generations. The United States would do well to adopt a consistent approach that is backed up by every administration, liberal or conservative. This approach would ideally include the aforementioned modifications (creativity in negotiations, insistence on Chinese engagement, etc.). Every election provides an opportunity for China and North Korea to weasel out of agreements and expectations, but consistency will legitimize our strategy, threats, and promises.
- Revise the Current Military Policy
Credible threats of military force are ostensibly the only tool that can leverage a Chinese and North Korean response. But there is a sweet spot: too much of a threat can spur a North Korean preemptive strike, but an empty threat can delegitimize the U.S. Overall, we have found the most success when our policies are backed up by credible military action. Credible is the key word here, as President Trump was full of chaotic threats and fiery provocations but did nothing to back up his claims. A refined military policy would simultaneously strengthen U.S. credibility and create a mechanism for improved military communication between China, the U.S., and the DPRK.
The aforementioned “sweet spot” of military credibility is critical for taming North Korea. In the best case, the United States would remain a strong operational presence in South Korea – maintaining essential deterrent power – while also refraining from talk of preemptive action, as this only puts North Korea on the defensive. We should seek to gain the DPRK’s trust not through altruism, but through credibility and consistency. There should be clear boundaries about which provocations will be met with military action, and they should be followed through.
Obviously, a war between the United States and Chinese-backed North Korea would be utterly catastrophic. Thus, war should be avoided at all costs. The flippantly provocative rhetoric of the previous administration brought us as close to nuclear war as we should ever dare to go; therefore, it is imperative to build on U.S. military credibility by developing a channel for sustained communication between China, the US, and North Korea. The Center for American Progress states that the United States and the DPRK have almost no diplomatic channels – limited to the Swedish embassy in Pyongyang and North Korea’s mission to the United Nations located in New York City – and warns that this lack of a mechanism for immediate contact could potentially be disastrous. The United States must therefore prioritize establishing a military-to-military hotline for improved communication. North Korea is just unpredictable enough to be a cause for concern, but a hotline would create an avenue for avoiding miscommunications, sending urgent messages, and de-escalating intense situations.
The three steps mentioned above, and their corresponding components, are all indispensable for a coherent policy moving forward. It needs to be emphasized, however, that no progress can be made without an accurate understanding of an effective utilization of China’s role as mediator – as both friend and foe. That is why it is the first step. The United States must demand China’s cooperation and implement accountability structures to ensure that the PRC’s deceitful behavior is in check. Once locked in this united front, the United States and China can approach negotiations with North Korea with shared interests. Chinese engagement and accountability ensure that the DPRK is isolated multilaterally, leaving no choice but cooperation.
With China properly managed, the next step is to play smarter in the game of diplomacy. Sure, we can maintain the moral high ground as U.S. diplomats prefer to do, but it would benefit us to engage in negotiations only after grasping the North Korean narrative; we must update our strategy, abandon our tired approaches, and get a little creative. Furthermore, a consistent, long-term blueprint that lasts beyond the next election could yield enhanced results. By withholding an opportunity for North Korea and China to wait for the next president, a unified approach would force DPRK and PRC leaders to comply here and now.
Finally, revisions to our current military policy, which would almost certainly naturally stem from stronger Chinese engagement and smarter and more consistent diplomacy, is the last step. A formidable but stable military presence and establishment of a communication hotline would decrease tension and act as a simple deterrent: North Korean provocations are sure to be met with quick and decisive military action, but there is no threat of a helter-skelter attack in response to an accidental incident.
In conclusion, a fourth possibility can be pursued; the outcome in East Asia isn’t limited to war, collapse, or perpetuation of the status quo. With these tools, it is possible that North Korea can be reformed. The United States should not back down, compromise its demands of denuclearization, or allow the DPRK to act with impunity; with Chinese collaboration, smarter diplomacy, and a better military policy, the rogue beast that is North Korea might be tamed.
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 “North Korea Overview,” Nuclear Threat Initiative, October 19, 2021, https://www.nti.org/analysis/articles/north-korea-overview/.
 Derek Bolton, “Nuclear Negotiations with North Korea: Why Negotiators Should Consider North Korean Narratives,” American Security Project, 2018, http://www.jstor.org/stable/resrep19808.
 “Chronology of U.S.-North Korean Nuclear and Missile Diplomacy,” Arms Control Association, last modified July 2020, https://www.armscontrol.org/factsheets/dprkchron.
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 Kim, “How China Sees North Korea,” 4.
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 “China Restarts Forced Returned of Refugees to North Korea,” Human Rights Watch, July 22, 2021, https://www.hrw.org/news/2021/07/22/china-restarts-forced-returns-refugees-north-korea#.
Ranjit Kumar Dhawan, “China and Its Peripheries: Contentious Relations with North Korea,” Institute of Peace and Conflict Studies, 2013, 4, http://www.jstor.org/stable/resrep09046.
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 Song, “Understanding China’s Response,” 1137.
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 Kim, “Reasons for a Policy of Engagement with North Korea,” 89.
 “Donald Trump’s North Korea Gambit: What Worked, What Didn’t, and What’s Next,” Wilson Center, November 26, 2020, https://www.wilsoncenter.org/blog-post/donald-trumps-north-korea-gambit-what-worked-what-didnt-and-whats-next.
 Robert Einhorn, “The Rollout of the Biden Administration’s North Korea Policy Review Leaves Unanswered Questions,” Brookings Institute, May 4, 2021, https://www.brookings.edu/blog/order-from-chaos/2021/05/04/the-rollout-of-the-biden-administrations-north-korea-policy-review-leaves-unanswered-questions/.
 Kim Tong-Hyung, “North Korea Repeats Threat as US Says Joint Drills are Defensive,” AP News, August 11, 2011, https://apnews.com/article/health-coronavirus-pandemic-daf3e3bcb32414d531286039300d4cbe.
 Josh Smith and Sangmi Cha, “Flanked by Missiles, North Korea’s Kim Says U.S. and South Korea Threaten Peace,” Reuters, October 12, 2021. https://www.reuters.com/world/asia-pacific/nkoreas-kim-says-there-is-no-reason-believe-us-is-not-hostile-kcna-2021-10-11/.
 Kim, “Reasons for a Policy of Engagement with North Korea,” 86.
 Kim, “Reasons for a Policy of Engagement with North Korea,” 86.
 Scobell, “China and North Korea,” vi.
 Chuck Downs, Over the Line: North Korea’s Negotiating Strategy, (Washington DC: American Enterprise Institute for Public Policy Research, 1999), 4.
 Kelly Magsamen et al., “A Responsible Approach to North Korea,” Center for American Progress, November 2, 2017, https://www.americanprogress.org/article/responsible-approach-north-korea/.
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Scobell, Andrew. “China and North Korea: From Comrades-in-Arms to Allies at Arm’s Length.” Strategic Studies Institute, US Army War College, 2004. http://www.jstor.org/stable/resrep11269.
Smith, Josh and Sangmi Cha. “Flanked by Missiles, North Korea’s Kim Says U.S. and South Korea Threaten Peace.” Reuters. October 12, 2021.
Song, Jooyoung. “Understanding China’s Response to North Korea’s Provocations.” Asian Survey 51, no. 6 (2011): 1134–55. https://doi.org/10.1525/as.2011.51.6.1134.
Tong-Hyung, Kim. “North Korea Repeats Threat as US Says Joint Drills are Defensive.” AP News. August 11, 2011. https://apnews.com/article/health-coronavirus-pandemic- daf3e3bcb32414d531286039300d4cbe.
Wilson Center. “Donald Trump’s North Korea Gambit: What Worked, What Didn’t, and What’s Next.” November 26, 2020. https://www.wilsoncenter.org/blog-post/donald-trumps-north-korea-gambit-what- worked-what-didnt-and-whats-next.