After the past few months of heightened military aggression, North Korea has finally shown attempts to improve its relationship with the outside world. Recently, according to Reuters, a leading diplomat from North Korea has reiterated his country's willingness to engage in international talks with the United States regarding North Korea's growing nuclear program. While this is good news for those concerned about the growing tension between the two countries, the White House has also stated that any talks that occur are contingent on the nuclear disarmament of the North Koreans ( a move that the Chinese claim to be the “dying wish” of former Chairman Kim Il-Sung and his son Kim Jong-Il). With possible deliberation occurring in the next few days, the United States must ask itself whether such assertions are genuine attempts at peacekeeping, or just floundering in an attempt to appease China.
Before one is able to fully understand the significance of North Korean peace movements, it is imperative to first understand the relationship between China and North Korea. As of right now, China profits best from the status quo. With a growing economy, China relies heavily on the relative stability of the Asian region, which would be thrown into chaos if North Korea were to engage in nuclear warfare. Therefore, China faces a catch-22 of sorts: If it applies too much pressure to halt North Korean aggression, it could lead to the collapse of North Korea and cause economic trouble. If it applies too little, then North Korea could engage the United States and South Korea, where it would lose based on sheer military capabilities and size, collapse, and also ultimately disrupt the Asian economy. Therefore, for China brokered peace negotiations between North Korea and the United States are vital to the continuing growth of the rising global hegemon.
However, it is also important to note that North Korea will not be so eager to give up its military backbone. For the last few decades a strong military central has been central to the country's national identity, and has molded its interaction with the outside world. With a large defense budget and the greatest percentage of its population currently serving in the military of any country in the world (roughly 12.11%), it would be antithetical to North Korea to demilitarize so quickly. As one of the few countries in the world that possesses nuclear capabilities, North Korea posesses a great amount of international power and influence that it would not have otherwise.
So how legitimate are North Korea’s peace brokering offers, really? Despite China’s intent on maintaining the status quo with North Korea, it is doubtful that North Korea will demilitarize anytime soon. If the history of North Korean-United States interaction is indicative of anything, North Korean leaders will appease the West through promises of demilitarization, only to continue to build in secret and eventually reveal its military growth years later. Until sincere deals are negotiated between the North Korean, Chinese, and United States leaders (where all parties involved are honest about their endgame), this pattern will continue to repeat itself for years to come.