North Korean Relations with China and the Soviet Union: The Impacts of Changes in the Leadership of the Two Communist Powers on North Korea
Master of Arts (MA)
Semester of Degree Completion
Yung Ping Chen
The Democratic People's Republic of Korea was established in September 1948, under the Soviet military occupation. Until Stalin's death in 1953, Soviet influence was predominant in North Korea because of Stalin as well as Soviet power. Stalin, who viewed North Korea as important to the security interests of Russia to defend the Asian front, handpicked Kim Il-sung and supported him to rise to power for the purpose of the Soviet control over the North. Kim Il-sung adopted the Stalinist model of communism which still persists. The Stalin-Kim relationship and North Korean military and economic dependence on Russia led to Pyongyang as a Soviet satellite in the prewar period, while China was preoccupied with its internal situation.
However, Kim, through history, obtained nationalistic consciousness not to rely too closely upon any one foreign power - in particular, he was aware of the Soviet economic exploitation during the 1945-50 years, which produced Kim's postwar goal of national independence through internal political and economic consolidation. The Korean War had stimulated North Korean nationalism, but had left the country economically more dependent on Russia and China than it was before the war.
The death of Stalin ended the special Stalin-Kim relationship and thus supported the North Korean efforts to be independent. Khrushchev placed less value on the DPRK and troubled Kim Il-sung, who believed in Stalinism and, like Mao, the policy of the "united front" against "imperialism", with his doctrinal innovation in 1956: peaceful co-existence, de-Stalinization and anti-personality cults - the year of 1956 marked the beginning of the Sino-Soviet dispute. The intervention of the Chinese People's Volunteers in the Korean War and its postwar presence in the North along with Chinese extensive economic assistance served for Kim to neutralize the Soviet control over the DPRK . All this led Pyongyang to align itself in 1962-64 with the Chinese in the intensifying Sino-Soviet conflict, despite the North's attempts to remain neutral.
By the fall of Khrushchev in 1964, the DPRK found itself in serious economic difficulties and political isolation, because of Khrushchev's pressure to isolate North Korea, cut-down of economic aid and termination of military assistance to retaliate Pyongyang standing behind the Chinese, while the People's Republic of China could not afford to meet the North Korean needs.
The Brezhnev-Kosygin leadership's stress on the improved Soviet position in Asia brought about a radical change in North Korean relations with the two communist powers. Seeking its national interests in need of competing with South Korea to reunify the Korean peninsula under the North's leadership, North Korea, ideologically closer to the more revolutionary Chinese, was tilting toward Moscow and the Soviet political, economic and military assistance was resumed. However, Pyongyang made clear North Korea's independence in the Communist bloc by rejecting both the Soviet "revisionism" and the Chinese "dogmatism", and underlining Juche idea( self-reliance ).
Mao's negative reaction to Pyongyang's turnabout and his Cultural Revolution drastically worsened the Sino-North Korean relations. At the end of the Cultural Revolution in 1969, the Pyongyang-Beijing close contacts began to revive with Mao's new pragmatic policy to counteract the growing Soviet influence in Asia, and further improved with Chinese efforts, such as diplomatic and economic assistance and the first arms deliveries since 1953, to counterbalance the unsettling effect on the North of the Sino-American détente. In the interest of drawing Pyongyang closer to Moscow, the USSR increased its economic, military and political support to the DPRK, and the Soviet-North Korean relations remained close. The North, thus, had reverted to its policy of middle road between Moscow and Beijing. Since then, facing the steadily intensifying Sino-Soviet rift, North Korea in the 1970s had continued to pursue equidistance stand toward the two neighbors to gain best benifits, but with slightly closer ties with China.
In the mid 1970s, certain strains in Soviet-North Korean ties emerged and Soviet military aid was decreasing. The DPRK could not gain support from both powers for its militant policy to unify the peninsula. In spite of its struggles for self-reliant economy, North Korea was still in need of Sino-Soviet support especially to solve its unexpected serious problems of foreign debts.
Therefore, in the post-Mao era, Pyongyang has maintained its pragmatic balancing act between the two countries. Since the late 1970s when with Deng's united front foreign policies against Russia and Brezhnev's efforts to encircle China in the face of a possible Sino-American-Japanese alliance, North Korea took on renewed importance to both Beijing and Moscow, the DPRK has been wooed by its respective neighbor powers seeking Pyongyang being behind each side. In the 1978-79 period, despite Pyongyang's unhappiness with Beijing's post-Mao foreign and domestic policies, the North moved closer to the Chinese and distanced itself further from the Soviets mainly because of Chinese new economic aid. However, the Chinese aid not enough to meet North Korean expectations and Kim's deepening concern over Deng's policies, such as de-Maoization and the growing links with the U.S. and Japan, moved the DPRK during the 1980-81 years to lean to the friendly Soviets. In 1982, the Sino-North Korean ties refirmed as China strongly courted Pyongyang through its increased economic aid, unusual military assistance and support for Kim's succession plan.
In November, the Kim Il-sung regime expressed to the new Yuri Andropov leadership in Moscow, that indicated to continue Soviet military buildup, the North's interest in closer relations with the Russians. Pyongyang reaffirmed its equidistant posture toward the PRC and the USSR.
In conclusion, although the Moscow-Beijing normalization talks has been proceeding since last October, the old Sino-Soviet alliance is unlikely to revive. The two neighbor powers will continue to put strategic value on the North. Pyongyang's needs for economic and military as well as political support from both China and the Soviet Union will remain to achieve its supreme goal of the reunification of Korea. It is most likely that North Korea will maintain to walk on a tightrope between the two communist countries to seek its own national interests.
Park, Myung-Ork, "North Korean Relations with China and the Soviet Union: The Impacts of Changes in the Leadership of the Two Communist Powers on North Korea" (1983). Masters Theses. 2892.