China is tied to its autocratic neighbor through a panoply of interests. Since the Korean War, it considers North Korea as a buffer state, and up to today, it seeks to defend the status quo. The baseline is that China still has a 1961 defense treaty with its neighbor and that any intervention by third countries will force it to either respond or lose the confidence of other traditional allies in Asia.There's more to it than just that, so it's a good read. It certainly sheds light on some of the rants I've been making for the better part of this decade.
To some extent, it is thus history that binds them together, but more important is the existence of a harmful security dilemma. Rivalry with other powers like the United States, Japan and Russia inhibits Beijing to effectively tackle nontraditional security threats for the long haul, because pressure once again might undermine its regional influence in the short term. A worst-case scenario would be a peaceful regime change that allows Japan and the U.S. to move in. Equally troublesome would be unification with South Korea, as this would again require Japanese support, and might bring about a more self-determined Korea with economic and political ambitions that could challenge China's growing influence in Northeast Asia.
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