Kevin Gray, eastasiaforum.org; uncaptioned image from article
Much has been made of the recent cooling of diplomatic relations between China and North Korea and Beijing’s increased emphasis on Seoul. Deteriorating relations since 2012 were confirmed most recently by South Korean President Park Geun-Hye’s prominent position at China’s 70th anniversary celebrations of the end of World War II. For those looking forward to North Korea’s rapid demise and to the reunification of the peninsula on Seoul’s terms, this growing distance between Beijing and Pyongyang has been greeted with cautious optimism.
But in terms of gauging the sustainability of the North Korean regime, it is worth looking beyond these outward manifestations of public diplomacy towards the question of how these political dynamics have affected economic exchange between the two countries.
In reality, economic relations between China and North Korea have remained largely unaffected by these tensions. Bilateral trade has risen sharply over the past decade, from a total of US$1.7 billion in 2006 to US$6.54 billion in 2013. As with China’s trade elsewhere with the developing world, mineral resources have formed a significant part of this growing trade. ...