The improbably-named Democratic People’s Republic of North Korea (DPRK) is a relic of the Cold War, the last true ‘cult-of-personality’ Communist dictatorship, and a nation still supported one of the West’s Cold War enemies, China. Despite the hopeful predictions made by many following the Soviet Union’s collapse on Christmas Day 1991, tensions between the West and East still arise over North Korea and those who choose to collaborate with the Kim dynasty’s authoritarian quasi-monarchy.

Given that the People’s Republic of China (PRC) shares a land border with North Korea and has supported the Kim regime since the Division of Korea in 1948, the two maintain a strong diplomatic relationship.  Firstly, China’s trade partnership with North Korea gives the nation the economic power needed to maintain stability and the authoritarian control over its people. Although North Korea only ranks 82nd on the list of China’s biggest trade partners, China is by far the largest trade partner of North Korea; According to 2013 statistics, North Korean exports to China were valued at nearly $3 billion with imports valuing roughly $3.6 billion. This means that China provides about half of all North Korean imports and receives a quarter of its exports. Without China’s economic co-operation, the Kim regime would soon be bankrupt given the economic sanctions placed on it by many other countries.

The two nations also maintain strong political ties; In March 2018, the infamous North Korean dictator Kim Jong-un met with Chinese Communist Party (CCP) General Secretary, Xi Jinping, in Beijing for the first time. His trip lasted four days and he was greeted with a banquet. It remains in China’s diplomatic interests to maintain influence in the Korean peninsula as Western influence near China may lead to the Chinese people protesting the lack of democracy in modern China. However, the CCP has repeatedly condemned North Korean nuclear tests and has spoken in favour of denuclearisation. Following a 2013 nuclear test, the Chinese Foreign Minister said that China “resolutely” opposed the test conducted by North Korea. Again in 2016, after another nuclear test, the Chinese government responded, “We strongly urge the DPRK side to remain committed to its denuclearization”. It’s clear that the PRC wishes to maintain political stability and avoid escalating relations with the West.

We must question the attitudes of the Chinese people towards North Korea. The PRC remains a one-party state, meaning that the actions of the government do not necessarily reflect the views of the people. A 2014 BBC World Service Poll found that 20% of Chinese people view North Korea’s influence positively, with 46% expressing a negative view. Perhaps if China eventually moves towards democracy the Chinese government will take a firmer approach to North Korea as many other countries have.

All in all, it is likely that the Chinese government will continue to support North Korea for the foreseeable future. Perhaps China will try to influence North Korea to liberalise in the same way Deng Xiaoping liberalised China following Chairman Mao’s death in 1976, maintaining the one-party state while opening the nation to foreign influence and converting the economy to market capitalism. But for now, when so many products for the global economy are manufactured in China – including the computer used to write and research this article, for example – the West is indirectly funding the North Korean regime.