Since Kim Jong Un became the supreme leader of North Korea in late 2011, and especially after Pyongyang undertook nuclear and long-range missile testing in 2012 and 2013, planning for North Korea contingencies (possible political turmoil and collapse) has become a popular theme for the US and ROK governments. Both countries acknowledge the key role that China would play in any scenario and have attempted to engage Beijing in discussions and even joint preparations for North Korea contingencies. However, China has consistently refused.
The belief that the US, China and ROK should pursue cooperation on North Korea contingencies is based on two assumptions. First, since the three countries have vested interests in North Korea and most likely would all intervene in a contingency scenario, trilateral planning is necessary to avoid misinformation, miscalculation or even confrontation. The second assumption is the three countries share certain common interests in securing North Korean weapons of mass destruction (WMD) and denuclearization as well as promotion of DPRK economic reform. Therefore, such shared interests would provide a solid foundation for trilateral cooperation. In this context, Beijing’s rejection of contingency discussions appears illogical and perplexing to many observers.
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