The Democratic People's Republic of Korea is a country in East Asia, located in the northern half of the Korean Peninsula bordering South Korea and China. Its capital, Pyongyang, is the country's largest city by both land area and population. It is a single-party state led by the Korean Workers' Party (KWP), and governed by Supreme Leader Kim Jong-un since 2012. It has a population of 24,052,231 (UN-assisted DPRK census 2008) made up of Koreans and a smaller Chinese minority. Japan 'opened' Korea in 1876 and annexed it in 1910. The Republic of Korea (ROK) was founded with US support in the south in August 1948 and the Soviet-backed Democratic People's Republic of Korea (DPRK) in the north in September that year.
North Korea issue has helped US China relations
Relations between China and the US look far from rosy. Tit-for-tat annual human rights reports in recent weeks that were as accusatory and acrimonious as ever added to simmering claims of cyberhacking and disagreement over Syria, Iran and trade. Those are the latest wrinkles to the big-picture backdrop of decades of difficult ties that have in the past two years been exacerbated by rising mutual concerns over strategic intentions. With so much to be worked on, North Korea's overshadowing of John Kerry's first trip to Beijing as US Secretary of State and Martin Dempsey's as chairman of the US Joint Chiefs of Staff would seem to have been unfortunate.
But the North's latest round of sabre-rattling was anything but an impediment; rather than detracting from the important matter of building bridges, it benefited the process. China and the US need, above all else, to better know and understand one another. There is no more constructive way to do that than through dialogue. The officials' trips, whether to discuss threats on the Korean peninsula or other issues of shared concern, helped strengthen foundations for improved ties.
Restoring calm to the Korean peninsula is a priority for Beijing and Washington. By working together, there is every chance that their objective can be attained. Kerry, with a firm grasp of foreign policy, has the right background. In him, there is hopefully a good chance of bringing back the balance to Sino-US relations that drifted under his predecessor, Hillary Clinton.
Under Clinton came US President Barack Obama's "pivot to Asia", explained as necessary for American development. Its military dimension is troubling for China, particularly at a time of heightened tension over territorial disputes in the East and South China seas. Nor is China explaining well its military modernisation to the world. At meetings of Chinese and American officials, both sides have pledged to improve ties, but there is no denying the growing suspicion and strategic distrust.
President Xi Jinping and Kerry expressed the right sentiments after their meeting. Apart from pledging a joint effort on North Korea, working groups were set up on cybercrime and climate change. Both nations are economically and politically interdependent; each has a stake in the other's success. With more than 90 intergovernment dialogues, the groundwork is already in place. North Korea will help them move closer, but it is only another stage of a process that needs ever-more talking and co-operation.