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China's Engagement of North Korea: Challenges and Opportunities for Europe

Publisher: SIPRI
February, 2017

China’s approach to North Korea’s advances in nuclear weapons and ballistic missile technologies is frequently discussed, but its economic engagement with North Korea and implementation of sanctions receive less detailed attention. This report assesses the evolution of China’s engagement of North Korea and how this has translated into its commitments to United Nations Security Council resolutions. It further offers an overview of pre-existing European engagement with China on North Korea and how this can be enhanced in the future.

This report is based on two years of empirical data and findings from statistical research, interviews and workshops. Among these, SIPRI experts conducted a series of interviews in April 2015, June 2015 and September 2016 in Beijing, Changchun, Yanji, Dandong and Shenyang. The report's findings suggest that expanded dialogue channels, crisis management, export-control training and non-proliferation, humanitarian engagement through civil society and integrated-aid systems can provide a foundation for converting Europe’s cooperation with China on North Korea from ad hoc initiatives to a coherent and sustainable strategy.


1. Introduction 

2. Denuclearization and the role of Chinese engagement

2.1 North Korea’s increasing nuclear capabilities

2.2 Chinese views on North Korea’s denuclearization

2.3 China’s approach to Resolution 2321

3. China’s economic engagement with North Korea

3.1 Current trends in North Korea’s economic development

3.2 Economic exchange between China and North Korea

3.3 Chinese views on future economic cooperation with North Korea

3.4 China’s humanitarian assistance to North Korea

3.5 Chinese views on the correlation between denuclearization and engagement

4. Opportunities for Chinese–European cooperation on engaging with North Korea

4.1 Political engagement

4.2 Humanitarian engagement

5. Conclusions


Fei Su is a Researcher in the SIPRI China and Asia Security Programme.
Dr Lora Saalman is a Senior Researcher within SIPRI’s Armament and Disarmament and Conflict, Peace and Security research areas.