Who shapes China’s North Korea policy? (International Crisis Group), a 2011 interview with Hahm Chaibong, director of the Asan Institute for Policy Studies, scares me a little. The combination of China’s seemingly ad hoc and ambiguous decision-making process for North Korean policy and North Korea’s volatility does not bode well for lasting peace on the Korean Peninsula. Yet, there is reason to be optimistic as this article is over two years old and China has recently taken a harder line with the DPRK; its vote for sanctions over Kim Jongun’s nuclear test earlier this year (NYT) signifies a shift in its pro-DPRK stance.
Quotations from the 2011 interview (emphasis mine):
The International Liaison Department (ILD) is the foreign affairs office of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP). It has a policy advisory role at the highest levels of government and is also an implementer of foreign policy through “party work” — liaising, communicating, and building relationships with foreign political parties. The ILD’s research and policy advisory role focuses on four areas: political relations, economic relations, governance theories, and public opinion. Since one key aspect of the ILD’s role is maintaining and building relationships with communist parties, this gives them unique status in China’s relationship with communist countries, and North Korea in particular.
The ILD plays the main role in China’s North Korean policy-making, and in practice, frequently sidesteps the foreign ministry to act as the real manager of the bilateral relationship.
While the ILD clearly steers China’s North Korean policy, the department’s leaders continue to emphasize the organ’s “subordination” to China’s “overall diplomacy” (guojia zongti waijiao), a reflection of the Party’s ongoing efforts to minimize and mask disparate or competing diplomatic agendas. Personnel reshuffles between the ILD and the foreign ministry also show the Party’s ongoing efforts to promote increased cohesion between the two organs.