The Friendship Treaty Between China and North Korea

With the Trump Administration threatening to move against the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK) as a punishment for their ballistic missile and nuclear programs, it is a good time to take a look back to 1961 when the People’s Republic of China and the DPRK signed the “Treaty of Friendship, Co-operation and Mutual Assistance Between the People’s Republic of China and the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea.

Here is the text of the treaty which was signed in July 1961:

THE Chairman of the People’s Republic of China and the Presidium of the Supreme People’s Assembly of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, determined, in accordance with Marxism-Leninism and the principle of proletarian internationalism and on the basis of mutual respect for state sovereignty and territorial integrity, mutual non-aggression, non-interference in each other’s internal affairs, equality and mutual benefit, and mutual assistance and support, to make every effort to further strengthen and develop the fraternal relations of friendship, co-operation and mutual assistance between the People’s Republic of China and the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, to jointly guard the security of the two peoples, and to safeguard and consolidate the peace of Asia and the world, and deeply convinced that the development and strengthening of the relations of friendship, co-operation and mutual assistance between the two countries accord not only with the fundamental interests of the two peoples but also with the interests of the peoples all over the world, have decided for this purpose to conclude the present Treaty and appointed as their respective plenipotentiaries:

The Chairman of the People’s Republic of China: Chou En-lai, Premier of the State Council of the People’s Republic of China.

The Presidium of the Supreme People’s Assembly of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea: Kim Il Sung, Premier of the Cabinet of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea,

Who, having examined each other’s full powers and found them in good and due form, have agreed upon the the following:

Article I

The Contracting Parties will continue to make every effort to safeguard the peace of Asia and the world and the security of all peoples.

Article II

The Contracting Parties undertake jointly to adopt all measures to prevent aggression against either of the Contracting Parties by any state. In the event of one of the Contracting Parties being subjected to the armed attack by any state or several states jointly and thus being involved in a state of war, the other Contracting Party shall immediately render military and other assistance by all means at its disposal.

Article III

Neither Contracting Party shall conclude any alliance directed against the other Contracting Party or take part in any bloc or in any action or measure directed against the other Contracting Party .

Article IV

The Contracting Parties will continue to consult with each other on all important international questions of common interest to the two countries.

Article V

The Contracting Parties, on the principles of mutual respect for sovereignty, non-interference in each other’s internal affairs, equality and mutual benefit and in the spirit of friendly co-operation, will continue to render each other every possible economic and technical aid in the cause of socialist construction of the two countries and will continue to consolidate and develop economic, cultural, and scientific and technical co-operation between the two countries.

Article VI

The Contracting Parties hold that the unification of Korea must be realized along peaceful and democratic lines and that such a solution accords exactly with the national interests of the Korean people and the aim of preserving peace in the Far East.

Article VII

The present Treaty is subject to ratification and shall come into force on the day of exchange of instruments of ratification, which will take place in Pyongyang. The present Treaty will remain in force until the Contracting Parties agree on its amendment or termination. Done in duplicate in Peking on the eleventh day of July, nineteen sixty-one, in the Chinese and Korean languages, both texts being equally authentic.

During the late 1950s and early 1960s, there had been some discussions by the Chinese and North Korea about a potential treaty of alliance, however little progress had been made until the end of June 1961.  In late June 1961, North Korea’s Foreign Minister Pak Seong-cheol informed Chinese Ambassador Qiao Ziaoguang that Kim Il-sung would pay a visit to the Soviet Union on June 29, 1961 with the purpose of signing a treaty of mutual assistance with China.  After visiting Moscow, Kim Il-sung flew to Beijing where he and China’s Premier Zhou En-lai signed the PRC-DPRK treaty on July 11, 1961.  It is key to note that the treaty has no expiry date, suggesting that it is still in effect today. 

Please note that I have highlighted the Treaty’s Article II.  This article clearly states the military  and other obligations of both parties should a third party be subjected to an by any state or group of states.

recent op-ed in the Global Times, the Communist Party of China’s unofficial English language daily, examined the relevance of the 1961 treaty in light of the current tensions between Pyongyang and Washington.  Here is a quote:

 “The precondition of peace is a stable geopolitical structure. In recent years, South Korea, Japan and the US have re-engaged in the geopolitical game in Northeast Asia. The treaty has somewhat supported structural stability in Northeast Asia. South Korea and the US have repeatedly hyped up the prospect of the collapse of Pyongyang’s regime. Some have tried to exclude China’s interests from the future landscape of the peninsula, while the treaty indicates that such thinking only leads to a dead end.

Pyongyang should cherish the treaty and make it one of the foundations for its national security. North Korea’s pursuit of nuclear technology has impaired its own security as well as the region’s, and it has also jeopardized China’s national security. This has violated the principles of the treaty.

The treaty firmly opposes aggression. But North Korea insists on developing nuclear weapons and conducting missile launches in violation of UN Security Council resolutions, which increases the risks of military clashes with the US. The situation has changed a lot compared with that of 2001 when the treaty was renewed. 

North Korea needs to end its nuclear tests. South Korea and the US should stop their aggressive military threats against Pyongyang. Both sides should contribute to peace and stability on the peninsula. China is geographically adjacent to the peninsula. If there is war, China will face the risk as well. 

China will not allow its northeastern region to be contaminated by North Korea’s nuclear activities. Nor will it allow changes to the peninsula structure through non-peaceful means.

China has not imposed full-scale sanctions on any country and the Chinese people have stayed away from war for years. The world has seen China’s strength gaining momentum. China respects all countries, but no country should underestimate China’s determination.” (my bold)

You will notice that People’s Republic of China is quite clear about its agenda in the Korean Peninsula.  While it is not in favour of the DPRK’s development of nuclear weapons and ballistic missiles largely because it threatens China’s national security, China has stated clearly that it is not in favour of changes to the current North – South geopolitical split, particularly changes that are brought about by “non-peaceful means” for example by a war started by outside military powers or by military coup, a tactic historically favoured by the United States.  China has, however, been quite clear that it will not come to North Korea’s aid if it launches missiles that threaten the United States as shown in this op-ed from the Global Times dated August 10, 2017:

Beijing is not able to persuade Washington or Pyongyang to back down at this time. It needs to make clear its stance to all sides and make them understand that when their actions jeopardize China’s interests, China will respond with a firm hand.

China should also make clear that if North Korea launches missiles that threaten US soil first and the US retaliates, China will stay neutral. If the US and South Korea carry out strikes and try to overthrow the North Korean regime and change the political pattern of the Korean Peninsula, China will prevent them from doing so.

China opposes both nuclear proliferation and war in the Korean Peninsula. It will not encourage any side to stir up military conflict, and will firmly resist any side which wants to change the status quo of the areas where China’s interests are concerned. It is hoped that both Washington and Pyongyang can exercise restraint. The Korean Peninsula is where the strategic interests of all sides converge, and no side should try to be the absolute dominator of the region.” (my bold)

We can clearly see from this posting that the political ties between China and North Korea are still firmly in place despite North Korea’s recent actions. The fifty-five year old treaty between the two nations is still in effect and, should the United States and any of its regional allies make the first moves in a war with North Korea, the terms of the Friendship Treaty clearly state that China must come to the aid of the North Koreans, a promise that they clearly made to the world in August 2017.

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