Eungseo Kim, The Sino-DPRK Split and Origins of US-DPRK Bilateralism

Eungseo Kim, ‘The Sino-DPRK Split and Origins of US-DPRK Bilateralism,’ European Journal of Korean Studies, Vol. 17, No. 2 (Spring, 2018), 72-80.

Abstract: North Korea has identified its official foreign policy as being focused on ‘self-reliance’ since the mid-1906s. Kim Il Sung (Kim Il-sŏng) had been long preoccupied with external interference in internal affairs, so the escalation of the Sino-Soviet schism created an environment in which to eliminate foreign influence in domestic politics and strengthen his control. North Korea did not only try to balance between the two giant socialist countries, but also expand its diplomatic sphere outside the communist bloc such as with Third World and European countries. In addition, it pursued direct contact with the US to achieve its longstanding goals, the removal of US troops stationed in the South and the replacement of the 1953 armistice with a permanent peace treaty. Since then demands for bilateral talks have become the most distinctive feature of North Korea’s foreign policy. With the advent of détente in the early 1970s, discontent with their Chinese comrades also led Kim to seek US-DPRK talks. Despite a mutual hostility generated during the era of the Cultural Revolution, Kim Il Sung’s first response to China’s rapprochement with the US was not negative, anticipating the potential for Chinese assistance in accomplishing North Korean diplomatic objectives in its relations with the US. At odds with Kim’s expectation, however, Chinese behavior did not meet North Korea’s demands. China, as well as the US, preferred the status quo to a rapid change in the region, even though they fully supported the beginnings of inter-Korean dialogue that culminated in the conclusion of the Joint Communiqué. Also, Kim Il Sung felt that, in the UN, China was more interested in seeking compromise with the US than asserting North Korea’s requests. Kim Il Sung’s dissatisfaction with China’s half-hearted stance during the détente strengthened his mistrust that Beijing did not consider North Korea’s national interests. As a result, North Korea deliberately excluded China in its offer of negotiations to the US such as the Tripartite Talks between the US and two Koreas, insisting on bilateral meetings with the US.

Keywords: North Korea, Foreign Policy, Self-reliance, Sino-DPRK relation, US-DPRK relation, Détente