China’s tough response to North Korea’s first nuclear test in 2006 raised expectations in the US, South Korea and Japan that Beijing might align its North Korea policy with the international community. Similar expectations were raised (and unmet) following North Korea’s second nuclear test in 2009, the Cheonan sinking and Yeonpyeong Island shelling in 2010, a third nuclear test in 2013, numerous missile tests and military provocations in 2014-2015, and a fourth nuclear test and long-range missile test in early 2016. Many scholars and policymakers maintain that Beijing’s rationales for supporting Pyongyang are crumbling. This article argues that Chinese traditional worldviews and strategic thought remain motivating concepts for Beijing’s policy on North Korea. China’s norms in its near abroad-beliefs about stability, siege mentality, due deference and Confucian reciprocity- explain phases in Beijing’s policy on North Korea and why the Chinese approach does not change as much as external observers hope or expect.
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