China–North Korea relations

China–North Korea relations (simplified Chinese: 中朝关系; traditional Chinese: 中朝關係; pinyin: Zhōngcháo Guānxi, Korean: 조중 관계, romanizedChojung Kwangye) have been generally friendly, although they were sometimes strained in recent years because of North Korea's nuclear program. They have a close special relationship[1] and China is often considered to be North Korea's closest ally.[2][3][4] China and North Korea have a mutual aid and co-operation treaty, which is currently the only defense treaty either country has with any nation.[5][6]

China–North Korea relations
Map indicating locations of People's Republic of China and North Korea


North Korea
Diplomatic mission
Chinese Embassy, PyongyangNorth Korean Embassy, Beijing
Ambassador Li JinjunAmbassador Ji Jae Ryong

China maintains an embassy in the North Korean capital of Pyongyang and a consulate general in Chongjin.[7] The embassy of North Korea in China is located in Beijing's Chaoyang District, while a consulate general is in Shenyang.

China and North Korea have, in the past, enjoyed close diplomatic relations. However, China–North Korea relations have declined markedly over the past few years until 2018. Since 2018, ties between North Korea and China also appear to have improved and returned to normalcy, with Workers' Party of Korea chairman Kim Jong-un making multiple trips to Beijing to meet Communist Party of China general secretary Xi Jinping.[8] In the past, decline in China–North Korea relations was primarily due to growing concern in China over issues such as North Korea's impoundment of Chinese fishing boats and more importantly its nuclear weapons program.[9][10] Relations have again been increasingly close since 2018, especially after Xi Jinping visited Pyongyang in June 2019.[11]

Favorable views of North Korea among Chinese people appear to be receding. According to a 2014 BBC World Service Poll, 20% of Chinese people view North Korea's influence positively, with 46% expressing a negative view.[12]

Country comparisonEdit

Common name China North Korea
Official name People's Republic of China Democratic People's Republic of Korea
Coat of arms    
Area 9,596,961 km² (3,705,407 sq mi)

(including Hong Kong and Macau)

120,540 km² (46,540 sq mi)
Population 1,418,669,490 25,368,620
Population density 145/km2 (375.5/sq mi) 212/km2 (549.1/sq mi)
Capital Beijing Pyongyang
Largest city Shanghai (26,317,104) Pyongyang (3,255,288)
Government Unitary one-party socialist republic Unitary one-party socialist republic
First leader Mao Zedong Kim Il-Sung
Current leader Xi Jinping Kim Jong-un
Established 21 September 1949 (People's Republic declared)

1 October 1949 (Proclamation of the People's Republic)

4 December 1982 (current constitution)

9 September 1948 (Foundation of DPRK)

27 December 1972 (current constitution)

Official languages Standard Chinese Korean
Currency Yuan North Korean Won
GDP (nominal) $14.216 trillion (2019) $32.1 billion (2018)
External debt (nominal) $1.843 trillion (2018 Q4) $20 billion (2011)
GDP (PPP) $27.438 trillion (2019) $40 billion (2014)
GDP (nominal) per capita $10,153 (2019) $1,300 (2018)
GDP (PPP) per capita $19,559 (2019) $1,800 (2014)
Human Development Index 0.752 (high) no data
Expatriates ~5,000 North Koreans living in China ~10,000 Chinese living in North Korea
Foreign exchange reserves 3,088,000 (millions of USD) unknown
Military expenditures $177.6 billion (1.9% of GDP) (2019) $1.6 billion (4.9% of GDP) (2018)
Military personnel 3,205,000 (0.23% of population)
  • 2,035,000 (active)
  • 510,000 (reserve)
  • 660,000 (paramilitary)
7,039,000 (25% of population)
  • 950,000 (active)
  • 200,000 (reserve)
  • 5,889,000 (paramilitary)
Army size People's Liberation Army Ground Force (2019)
  • 18,910 main battle tanks
  • 49,350 armored fighting vehicles
  • 3,710 self-propelled guns
  • 6,945 towed artillery
  • 2,890 multiple-launch rocket systems
  • 0 tactical ballistic missile systems
  • 1,531 surface to air missile systems
Korean People's Army Ground Force (2019)
  • 10,375 main battle tanks
  • 12,500 armored fighting vehicles
  • 2,500 self-propelled guns
  • 8,600 towed artillery 
  • 5,500 multiple-launch rocket systems
  • 1,380 tactical ballistic missile systems
  • 6,825 surface to air missile systems
Air force size People's Liberation Army Air Force
  • 2,378 fighters/interceptors
  • 550 attack aircraft
  • 191 transports
  • 980 helicopters
  • 446 attack helicopters
Korean People's Army Air Force
  • 384 fighters/interceptors
  • 188 attack aircraft
  • 4 transports
  • 184 helicopters
  • 20 attack helicopters
Navy size People's Liberation Army Navy (2019)

Total naval strength: 352 ships

  • 2 aircraft carriers
  • 16 destroyers
  • 33 frigates
  • 50 corvettes
  • 41 submarines
Korean People's Navy

Total naval strength: 967 ships

  • 3 frigates
  • 14 corvettes
  • 70 submarines
Nuclear warheads


0(?) / 280 (2019)[13] ?) / 20–30 (2019)

Leaders of China and North Korea since 1950

Kim Il-SungKim Jong-ilKim Jong-unMao ZedongHua GuofengDeng XiaopingJiang ZeminHu JintaoXi JinpingNorth KoreaChina 


Early history and Korean WarEdit

Chinese volunteers crossing the Yalu River into North Korea during the Korean War
North Korea's prime minister Kim Il-sung and China's premier Zhou Enlai tour Beijing in 1958.

The People's Republic of China and the Democratic People's Republic of Korea exchanged diplomatic recognition on 6 October 1949.

In May 1950, North Korea's Prime minister Kim Il-sung secretly visited Beijing to brief Chinese Communist Party chairman Mao Zedong and the Chinese leadership on his war plans.[14] Following setbacks sustained by the Korean People's Army and the crossing of the 38th parallel by the United Nations Command, in October 1950 China entered the Korean War in support of North Korea.[15] In addition to dispatching the Chinese People's Volunteers to Korea to fight against the United Nations Command, China also received North Korean refugees and students and provided economic aid during the war.[16] Following the signing of the Korean War Armistice in 1953, China, along with members of the Eastern Bloc led by the Soviet Union, provided extensive economic assistance to Pyongyang to support the reconstruction and economic development of North Korea.[17]

1956 August Faction IncidentEdit

In 1956, at the 2nd Plenary Session of the 3rd Central Committee, leading pro-China Korean figures known as the Yan'an faction attempted to remove Kim il-sung from power with the support of China and the Soviet Union. This incident has become known as the August Faction Incident and forms the historical basis for North Korean fears of Chinese interference.

Deterioration in 1960sEdit

The 1960s have been characterized as a "contentious" period in Sino-North Korean relations.[18] The Korean Workers Party criticized the Cultural Revolution and described Mao Zedong as “an old fool who has gone out of his mind.”[18][19] The People's Republic of China recalled its Ambassador from Pyongyang in October 1966, and the Red Guard criticized North Korea as being "revisionist" in the Dongfanghong newspaper.[18][20]

Sino-North Korean Mutual Aid and Cooperation Friendship TreatyEdit

In 1961, the two countries signed the Sino-North Korean Mutual Aid and Cooperation Friendship Treaty, whereby China pledged to immediately render military and other assistance by all means to its ally against any outside attack.[21] This treaty was prolonged twice, in 1981 and 2001, with a validity until 2021.

Post-Cold War eraEdit

On 1 January 2009, Chinese paramount leader Hu Jintao and North Korean leader Kim Jong-il exchanged greetings and declared 2009 as the "year of China–DPRK friendship," marking 60 years of diplomatic relations between the two countries.[22]

The close China-DPRK relationship is celebrated at the Mass Games in Pyongyang

In August 2012, Jang Song-thaek, uncle of Kim Jong-un, met Hu Jintao, General Secretary of the Communist Party of China in Beijing.[23] It has since been widely reported that during their meeting, Jang told Hu Jintao he wished to replace Kim Jong-un with his brother Kim Jong-nam. The meeting was allegedly taped by Zhou Yongkang, then secretary of the Central Political and Legal Affairs Commission, who informed Kim Jong-un of the plot. In December 2013, Jang was executed for treason while in July 2014 Zhou was publicly put under investigation for corruption and other crimes and was arrested in December 2014. These events are said to have marked the beginning of Kim Jong-un's distrust of China, since they had failed to inform him of a plot against his rule, while China took a dislike to Kim for executing their trusted intermediary.[24][25]

On 5 May 2013, North Korea "grabbed," according to Jiang Yaxian, a Chinese government official, another Chinese fishing boat in a series of impounding Chinese fishing boats.[9] "North Korea was demanding 600,000 yuan ($97,600) for its safe return, along with its 16 crew."[9] According to a New York Times article in December 2014, relations had reached a low point.[26]

In March 2016 the North Korean leader Kim Jong-un visited a missile factory, which China strongly condemned, in a report by the state newspaper the People's Daily revealed that the North Korean politics causes instability on the Korean Peninsula and is comparable to the situation in Syria.[citation needed]

The involvement of the United States in the peninsula's affairs in April–May 2017 presented a major issue for Sino-American relations in organiser Li Xiaolin's preparations for Xi's visit to the US.[27]

Nuclear weapons programEdit

Since 2003, China has been a participant in six-party talks aimed at resolving the issue of North Korea's nuclear weapons programme.

The Foreign Minister of the People's Republic of China Yang Jiechi said that China "resolutely" opposed the 2013 North Korean nuclear test conducted by North Korea.[28][29] The North Korean ambassador to China, Ji Jae-ryong, was personally informed of this position on 12 February 2013 in a meeting with Yang Jiechi.[28]

In 2016, right after the North Korean nuclear test in January tensions between China and North Korea have further grown, the reaction of China was, "We strongly urge the DPRK side to remain committed to its denuclearization commitment, and stop taking any actions that would make the situation worse," spokesperson Hua Chunying said.[30] On 24 February 2016 the United States and China introduced new sanctions against the North Korean regime conducted within the United Nations context.[31]

The Times of India reported that British Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson saying at a dinner to mark India's independence that the Chinese control 90% of North Korea's trade and it is in the Chinese government's hands to exercise economic pressure on Kim Jong-un to achieve the diplomatic resolution needed to de-escalate tensions in the region.[32]

The United States has sanctioned many Chinese companies for allegedly aiding North Korea's nuclear program.[33][34]

2017 decline in relationsEdit

Due to Chinese support for sanctions against North Korea, relations in 2017 took a negative turn with North Korean state media attacking China directly on at least three occasions.

In February 2017, after China halted imports of coal from North Korea, the Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) said, "this country [China], styling itself a big power, is dancing to the tune of the US while defending its mean behaviour with such excuses that it was meant not to have a negative impact on the living of the people in the DPRK but to check its nuclear program".[35]

In May 2017, KCNA made an unprecedented criticism of China, saying "a string of absurd and reckless remarks are now heard from China every day only to render the present bad situation tenser" and that "China had better ponder over the grave consequences to be entailed by its reckless act of chopping down the pillar of the DPRK-China relations". Accusing China of "big-power chauvinism", KCNA said Chinese support for sanctions against North Korea were "an undisguised threat to an honest-minded neighboring country which has a long history and tradition of friendship" and that "The DPRK will never beg for the maintenance of friendship with China".[36]

In September 2017, KCNA slammed negative editorials by the People's Daily and Global Times, saying "some media of China are seriously hurting the line and social system of the DPRK and threatening the DPRK" and calling them "the dirty excrement of the reactionaries of history" who "spouted such extremely ill-boding words".[37]

In February 2018, the KCNA again criticized Chinese media. According to KCNA, China Central Television "seriously spoiled the atmosphere of the feast by publishing presumptuous comments of individual experts" and the Global Times was condemned for "the behavior of scattering ashes on other’s happy day as they bring the denuclearization issue".[38][39]

2018 improvement in relationsEdit

In March 2018, Korean Workers' Party Chairman Kim Jong-un met with Chinese Communist Party General Secretary Xi Jinping for the first time in Beijing.[40] Xinhua News Agency reported that the North Korean leader's trip lasted four days. Kim and his wife Ri Sol-ju were met with honour guards and a lavish banquet hosted by Xi Jinping.[41]

Xi was likewise received in the same-fashion when he visited Pyongyang in June 2019 on two-day state visit, the first of such since Hu Jintao's 2006 visit. In a North Korean mass games that Xi attended, he was depicted inside a gold-framed circle surrounded by red — the same style previously used to depict Kim Jong-un's father, Kim Jong-il, and grandfather, Kim Il-sung.[42][43] It is also the first time a visit by a Chinese leader to North Korea has been called a "state visit" by the Chinese government.

In July 2019, North Korea was one of the 50 countries which signed a letter defending Xinjiang re-education camps and praising "China’s remarkable achievements in the field of human rights in Xinjiang."[44][45] North Korea has also defended China's position in the 2019 Hong Kong protests, with North Korean Foreign Minister Ri Yong-ho saying that "North Korea fully supports the stand and measures of China to defend the sovereignty, security and territorial integrity of the country and safeguard the prosperity and stability of Hong Kong, and concerns about foreign forces interference in Hong Kong issue."[46] During an official visit to North Korea in September 2019, State Councilor Wang Yi said that "China will always stand on the road as comrades and friends" of North Korea.[47]

In October 2019, the two countries celebrated 70 years of an "invincible friendship".[48]


China and North Korea share a 1,416-kilometer long border that corresponds to the course of the Yalu and Tumen rivers.

In the 1950s and 1960s, many ethnic Koreans in Northeast China crossed the border into North Korea to escape economic hardship and famine in China. In recent years, the flow of refugees has reversed, with a considerable number of North Koreans fleeing to China.[49] Much of China's trade with North Korea goes through the port of Dandong on the Yalu River.[50]

In February 1997, tourist access to the bridge over the Tumen at Wonjong-Quanhe was allowed.[51]

In May 2012, China and North Korea signed an agreement on the construction and management of the cross-border bridge between Manpo in the Jagang Province of North Korea and Jian in China.[52]

In 2015, a single rogue North Korean soldier killed four ethnic Korean citizens of China who lived along the border of China with North Korea.[53]

In April 2019, both countries opened the bridge connecting the cities of Ji'an and Manpo after three years of construction.[54]

Economic relationsEdit

Trucks queued waiting for the border crossing between Quanhe and Wonjong to open.

China's economic assistance to North Korea accounts for about half of all Chinese foreign aid. Beijing provides the aid directly to Pyongyang, thereby enabling it to bypass the United Nations.

During the period of severe food shortage between 1996 and 1998, Beijing provided unconditional food aid to North Korea.[55]


China is North Korea's largest trade partner, while North Korea ranked 82nd on the list of China's trade partners (2009 estimate) China provides about half of all North Korean imports and received a quarter of its exports.

Year 1995 1996 1997 1998 1999 2000 2001 2002 2003 2004 2005 2006 2007 2008 2009
Trade turnover (million$) 549.646 565.652 656.021 407.750 370.356 488.053 737.457 738.172 1,023.541 1,376.718 1,581.234 1,699.604 1,973.974 2,787.278 2,680.767


By 2011 trade had increased to $5.6 billion (₩5.04 trillion).[57] Trade with China represents 57% of North Korea's imports and 42% of its exports. Chinese statistics for 2013 indicate that North Korean exports to China were nearly $3 billion, with imports of about $3.6 billion.[58]

In February 2017, China restricted all coal imports from North Korea until 2018. This is considered to be extremely harmful to the North Korean economy, as coal was the top export of the nation, and China was their top trading partner. China has said this was in line with the UN sanctions against North Korea, but it is speculated that this occurred because of a mix of events, including recent nuclear tests, the suspected assassination of Kim Jong-nam, brother of ruler Kim Jong-un, and pressure on China from the rest of the world and especially the United States.[59][60][61] However, despite this, North Korea has been reported to evade sanctions and continue to sell coal to China through a loophole.[62][63]

On 28 September 2017, in response to new UN Security Council sanctions over a nuclear test earlier in the month, China ordered all North Korean companies operating in China to cease operations within 120 days.[64] By January 2018 customs statistics showed that trade between the two countries had fallen to the lowest level recorded.[65]

Trade between China and North Korea increased by 15.4% to 1.25 billion in the first half of 2019.[66]

In July 2019, Washington Post has reported that Huawei "secretly helped" North Korea to build and maintain its commercial wireless network.[67][68]


On 7 May 2013, Bank of China, China's biggest foreign exchange bank, joined other international banks in closing the accounts of North Korea's Foreign Trade Bank, its main foreign exchange bank. Although neither entity stated reasons for the closure, it is widely assumed that it was in response to sanctions placed against Bank of China by the United States for its alleged assistance in financing the North Korean nuclear weapons program.[69]


In 2012, a $45 million investment by China's Haicheng Xiyang Group into an iron-ore powder processing plant failed under what the Chinese called "a nightmare".[70] On 21 February 2016 China quietly ended financial support of North Korea without any media publicity. It is reported to be due to the fallout of relations between the two governments.[71]

Military relationsEdit

Chinese soldiers at the Battle of Triangle Hill in 1952, during the Korean War.

During the Korean War from 1950–53, China assisted North Korea, sending as many as 3 million soldiers,[72] known as the People's Volunteer Army, to support North Korean forces fighting the South Korean and UN on the Korean peninsula. As many as 180,000 Chinese soldiers were killed.[72]

Since the end of the Korean War, the two states have closely cooperated in security and defense issues. In 1975, Kim Il-sung visited Beijing in a failed attempt to solicit support from China for a military invasion of South Korea.[73] On 23 November 2009, Chinese Defense Minister Liang Guanglie visited Pyongyang, the first defense chief to visit since 2006.[74]

On August 2019, director of the General Political Bureau of the KPA Kim Su Gil visited Beijing to meet with Zhang Youxia. Zhang told Kim that the delegation's visit as was of “crucial significance in bilateral exchange.“[75]

Inter-visits by leadersEdit

From North Korea to China
Year Name
1953 Premier Kim Il-sung
1954 Premier Kim Il-sung
1958 Premier Kim Il-sung
1959 Premier Kim Il-sung
1961 Premier Kim Il-sung
1975 General Secretary Kim Il-sung
1982 President Kim Il-sung
1984 President Kim Il-sung
1987 President Kim Il-sung
1989 General Secretary Kim Il-sung
1991 General Secretary Kim Il-sung
2000 General Secretary Kim Jong-il
2001 General Secretary Kim Jong-il
2004 General Secretary Kim Jong-il
2006 General Secretary Kim Jong-il
2010 General Secretary Kim Jong-il
2010 General Secretary Kim Jong-il
2011 General Secretary Kim Jong-il
2011 General Secretary Kim Jong-il
2018 Chairman Kim Jong-un
2018 Chairman Kim Jong-un
2018 Chairman Kim Jong-un
2019 Chairman Kim Jong-un

From China to North Korea
Year Name
1958 Premier Zhou Enlai
1963 Chairman Liu Shaoqi
1970 Premier Zhou Enlai
1978 Chairman Hua Guofeng
1982 Chairman Hua Guofeng
1984 General Secretary Hua Guofeng
1985 General Secretary Hua Guofeng
1986 President Li Xiannian
1988 President Yang Shangkun
1989 General Secretary Zhao Ziyang
1990 General Secretary Jiang Zemin
1991 Premier Li Peng
1992 President Yang Shangkun
2001 General Secretary Jiang Zemin
2004 General Secretary Hu Jintao
2008 Vice President Xi Jinping
2009 Premier Wen Jiabao
2013 Vice President Li Yuanchao
2019 General Secretary Xi Jinping

In 1978, the DPRK celebrated the 30th anniversary of the republic, in which Chinese paramount leader Deng Xiaoping attended in his official capacities as the First Vice Premier of the State Council and the Chairman of the Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference.[76][77]

See alsoEdit

Notes and referencesEdit

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  76. ^
  77. ^

External linksEdit