No time for celebrationNorth Korea and China signed the Sino-North Korean Treaty of Friendship, Cooperation and Mutual Assistance on July 11, 1961. Article Two of the pact declares that if one faces a military attack by either a state or allied forces, the other should provide military or other forms of support without hesitation in what amounts to a clause on obligatory intervention, allowing China to step into a crisis on the Peninsula.
The two allies showed off their solid alliance with high-level official visits to each country to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the treaty. Yang Hyung-sop, vice chairman of the Standing Committee of Supreme People’s Assembly of North Korea, led a delegation to Beijing Saturday. Zhang Dejiang, a deputy vice premier of State Council of China, also visited Pyongyang yesterday with a delegation. In a de facto rupture of South-North relations and amid the North’s ever-deepening economic reliance on China, the two partners are still boasting of their deep blood ties at home and abroad.
Over the past half century, the situation in and around the Korean Peninsula has drastically changed. With the end of the Cold War in the late 1980s, the Soviet Union disappeared from the world map. Russia established diplomatic relations with South Korea in 1990, and South Korea and China, two former adversaries, set up diplomatic ties two years later. In 2000, Russia scrapped the military alliance treaty the former U.S.S.R. had signed with the North and signed a new Treaty on Friendship, Good-Neighborly Relations and Cooperation by jettisoning the clause on compulsory intervention. Yet, the five-decade-old Sino-North Korean Treaty still remains intact, defying all the changes thereafter.
North Korea and China cite the mandatory intervention clause of the 1953 South Korea-U.S. Mutual Defense Treaty - which says an armed attack on either of the parties “would be dangerous to its own peace and safety so it would act to meet the common danger in accordance with its constitutional processes” - as the grounds for their maintaining of the same clause.
However, it is absurd to compare the North, which waged the Korean War 61 years ago and continues to make military provocations, with South Korea. Our alliance with the U.S. evolved into a global one based on same values. Against that backdrop, China should agonize over how to promote peace and security in Northeast Asia rather than celebrating a treaty with the North out of its need to avert an uncontrollable crisis in North Korea. China should find a clue to the challenge from how to change the North first.