China’s relations with its four Northeast Asian neighbours

China’s relations with its four Northeast Asian neighbours need rethinking

19 March 2015

A number of evolutions have characterized China’s direct Northeast Asian environment in 2013 and 2014. North Korea’s new leader Kim Jong-un pursued a more assertive foreign and security policy, thereby isolating North Korea further; ties between China and South Korea warmed up quickly under Park Geun-hye; in Taiwan, the Kuomintang (KMT) suffered a stunning defeat at local elections last November, paving the way for a possible Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) victory at the next general elections; and relations with Japan recovered timidly after two very difficult years. The developments of each of those four relations remain uncertain but are crucial for Asia’s stability as a whole.

The latest issue of China Analysis, “A China reset in Northeast Asia”, focuses on China’s relations with its four Northeast Asian neighbours. It underlines the necessity for China to rethink its regional foreign and security policy:

  • South Korea-China relations are “now at the best state in history”, but to avoid South Korea favouring the US, China must provide South Korea with the regional security guarantee it craves.
  • Isolated in the region since its 2013 nuclear test, North Korea has grown closer to another isolated Asian power: Russia. The rapprochement between the two countries is not a threat to China, but could encourage China to “break the ice” with North Korea, while getting closer to South Korea and the US to ensure denuclearization of the Peninsula.
  • The KMT’s defeat in Taiwan’s local elections points to a likely change in power at the next general elections. While the KMT’s cross-strait policy seems not to be the main reason for the party’s defeat, a DPP president could challenge ten years of KMT-dominated cross-strait relations. Therefore, Beijing needs to rethink its bilateral strategy.
  • Finally, the biggest uncertainty in Northeast Asia regards the future of China-Japan relations. After two years of interrupted high-level meetings, the two heads of state finally met again in November 2014. However, the bilateral truce still remains fragile.

In his introduction to the analysis, Francois Godement, Director of ECFR’s China and Asia programme, comments: “These trends make a case for China to reset its foreign and security policy in Northeast Asia. It is still Beijing that calls the tune. But Japan at least, which has endured two years of controversies and incidents, can see much of its resilient stand vindicated by events.”

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Contact author:

Agatha Kratz:    Phone: +33 33 1 83 79 08 07 

Francois Godement:    Phone: +33 1 83 79 01 86

ECFR Press:   Phone: +44 (0) 20 7227 6864               

Notes for Editors:

Picture credits: Trey Ratcliffe/Flickr 

This paper, like all ECFR publications, represents the views of its authors, not the collective position of ECFR or its Council Members.

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