China and North Korea are nominally allies, but relations between the two neighbors – always difficult -- have deteriorated as North Korea has accelerated its nuclear and ballistic missile development under Kim Jong Un. Over the past year, Kim has deliberately timed his nuclear and ballistic missile tests to coincide with high-profile Chinese events such as the BRICS summit in Xiamen, the Belt and Road forum in Beijing, and the Xi-Trump Mar-a-Lago summit. Yet, North Korea is economically dependent on China, which currently accounts for over 90% of its total trade volume and most food and energy imports. Although Beijing has tightened sanctions on North Korea, China remains an economic lifeline and has resisted regime-threatening pressure.
Does the solution to the North Korea threat run through Beijing? Who really holds the upper hand in the Sino-DPRK relationship? Could a recently empowered Xi Jinping bring Kim Jong Un to heel if he wanted to? Or do socialist ties and North Korea’s value as a buffer state outweigh the risks of a defiant nuclear next-door neighbor? Bitter Allies will outline the historical context of North Korea-China relations, and unpack key aspects of this critical, but often misunderstood relationship. Panelists will explore the economic, political and military relations between these “frenemies” and the implications for U.S. policy in the aftermath of the Trump-Xi Summit in Beijing.