How not to be abandoned by China: North Korea’s nuclear brinkmanship revisited

Hongseo Park, Jae Jeok Park

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Whatever motivations lie behind North Korea’s nuclear and missile programs, North Korea has been aware that further nuclear and missile tests would incur increasingly harsh international sanctions. In order to survive the sanctions, North Korea needs to entrap China to its side, for the North Korean economy is highly dependent upon China. In this context, this article argues that North Korea intentionally increases the level of its nuclear and missile threat in order to entrap China (thus, reducing its fear of being abandoned by China). That is, North Korea has elaborated its coercive diplomacy in order to press China to show a strong commitment to their mutual alliance. In order to develop the above argument, this article proceeds as follows. First, as an analytical framework, it applies Glenn Snyder’s concept of the linkage between the alliance game and adversary game to the trilateral relationship among the United States (along with South Korea), China and North Korea. Second, it provides an overview of Sino-North Korean relations from 2006 up to the present, attempting to analyze North Korea’s brinkmanship. Thirdly, it concludes with some policy implications for future trilateral relations, one of which is that China should seriously discuss North Korea contingency plans with the United States and South Korea in order to develop an effective strategy to curb North Korea’s military adventurism. Paradoxically, this would lead to North Korea’s fully considering China’s position.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)371-387
Number of pages17
JournalKorean Journal of Defense Analysis
Issue number3
Publication statusPublished - 2017 Sept

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
Keywords: North Korea, North Korea–China Relations, Brinkmanship, Alliance Security Dilemma, Korean Peninsula * Jae Jeok Park’s work was supported by Hankuk University of Foreign Studies Research Fund of 2017. ** E-mail:;

Publisher Copyright:
© 2017 Korea Institute for Defense Analyses.

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Sociology and Political Science
  • Safety Research
  • Political Science and International Relations


Dive into the research topics of 'How not to be abandoned by China: North Korea’s nuclear brinkmanship revisited'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this