Trade between the two countries undercuts sanctions and makes Pyongyang less likely to reform
A fishing boat docks at the port area of North Korean Special Economic Zone of Rason City / Reuters
Yonhap reported this week that North Korea's trade dependence on China has climbed as China's proportion of North Korea's overall foreign trade has risen from $1.97 billion, representing 41.6 percent of North Korea's overall trade in 2007, to $3.47 billion, representing 57.1 percent in 2010. The report compares trends in China-North Korea trade relations with inter-Korean trade trends, which despite heightened tensions show a slight increase in trade volume from $1.8 billion in 2007 to $1.91 billion in 2010. But because of the growth in China's trade with North Korea, inter-Korean trade as a proportion of North Korea's overall trade has dropped from 38 percent in 2007 to 31.4 percent in 2010.
South Korea's perceived failure to compete with China for economic
influence in the North as a result of heightened tensions in
inter-Korean relations remains an active subject of frustration in South
Korea, especially among progressives, but North Korea's continued
pursuit of nuclear and missile tests and other tension-raising
provocations against the South make it clear that China has been unable
to use the North's economic dependency on Beijing as a tool for imposing
political restraint on Pyongyang.
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To explore the significance of these developments in China-DPRK relations, the New York-based Korea Society hosted a series of three programs to explore the relationship in greater detail. USIP's John Park argued that the Chinese have launched their own Sunshine Policy with Chinese characteristics, while the Mansfield Foundation's Gordon Flake suggested that China's tendency to shield North Korea from the consequences of its own provocations has become a source of mistrust in Beijing's relations with the United States and South Korea.