The two superpowers in China's alliance policy toward North Korea, 1969--1989

Date of Completion

January 1990


Political Science, International Law and Relations




This study was undertaken to clarify effects of the differing Sino-Soviet-American strategic relationships on China's North Korea policy during 1969-1989. China's policy behavior toward North Korea was analyzed by historical and quantitative methods of military, political, and economic policies and indicators.^ Soviet-American relations were categorized either as detente or conflict, labeling the period of study to be subdivided as follows: Periods 1 (1969-1975) and 4 (1986-1989) U.S.-USSR detente; Periods 2 (1976-1981) and 3 (1982-1985) were U.S.-USSR conflict.^ This study had mixed results. Periods 1, 2 and 3 support the hypotheses, whereas Period 4 does not. This was due to the unique characteristics of Period 4--the first appearance of Sino-Soviet-American strategic detente since 1949. Under this situation, China did not have to support North Korea.^ Five significant relationships were derived from this study. First, China's trade behavior toward North Korea followed the political behavior. Second, with the exception of Period 4, China tended to support North Korea more during periods of the U.S.-USSR cooperation than during periods of U.S.-USSR conflict. Third, Sino-Soviet relations affected in China's North Korean policy inversely. Fourth, Sino-American relations intervened periodically but significantly, as the third factor, in China's North Korean policy. Fifth, China gave more support to Korean unification than to U.S. troop withdrawal from South Korea.^ Quantitative methods were used as an important tool to test or to complement my subjective analysis. Quantified total sum of visitations was not a good indicator of China's support. However, quantitative analysis showed China's celebration of North Korean National Day had a political aspect, whereas her celebration of Sino-North Korea Treaty had a military aspect. China's celebration of the Korean War shows equal support for military and political aspects.^ Viewing China's North Korea policy only from the Sino-Soviet rivalry perspective or from North Korea's "equidistance" perspective is not enough. This study suggests the major thrust of alliance theory--the presence of a positive relationship between two superpowers' relations and alliance cohesion--is open to question. ^