Samuel Ramani explains Russia and China's strategies to the North Korea Crisis

As North Korea makes headlines at the Winter Olympics, Samuel Ramani analyses Russia and China's responses to Kim Jong-un's regime: how and why they are adapting their approaches.

While China has been North Korea's biggest trading partner since the Korean War, China has been toughening its economic stance towards North Korea.  In an article in EastWest Institute, Samuel Ramani argues that North Korea has pivoted strongly toward Russia as an alternative partner, and that Russia is taking advantage of discontent in Pyongyang to increase its diplomatic leverage and develop its role as a conflict arbiter in the North Korea Crisis.

'The best explanation for Kremlin’s active role in resolving the standoff is Russia’s desire to showcase its great power status to both its domestic audience and the international community. To this end, Russian diplomats have rallied support from European and Asian leaders for a peaceful resolution to the North Korean crisis, and used a mixture of coercive diplomacy and back-channel negotiations to convince the DPRK to come to the bargaining table.'

The success of this approach, Ramani argues, would bolster Putin's nationalist base ahead of the 2018 presidential elections, as well as bolstering Russia's role as arbiter in other regions.


China's strategy is very different.  In The Diplomat Ramani examines China's increasingly punitive economic measures against Pyongyang.  These, he argues, as based on a calculation by Beijing that Kim Jong-un has overestimated Russia's willingness to provide economic assistance to North Korea.

'Even though China-North Korea tensions are at their highest level in decades, China’s willingness to partially comply with UN sanctions should not be taken as a sign of Beijing’s willingness to abandon its alliance with North Korea. Instead, China is using coercive diplomacy to encourage the Kim regime to comply with Chinese policy preferences and recognize China’s hegemony.'


Samuel Ramani is a DPhil candidate at St Anthony's College, University of Oxford, and regularly contributes to a range of international journals.

Samuel Ramani is a DPhil student at DPIR