This paper is the first of its kind to systematically investigate how China responds to the linking of the responsibility to protect to the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK), following the 2014 publication of the UN Commission of Inquiry Report. The nascent academic literature on the responsibility to protect and the DPRK offers little comment on China’s role. I find that in contrast to China’s record of largely proactive and positive engagement with the evolving norm, the DPRK case is an outlier for China. China does not acknowledge the application of the responsibility to protect in the context of DPRK mass abuse, although the norm is invoked within the 2005 World Summit Outcome Document standards, which China calls for. Instead, China outright dismisses the application of the responsibility to protect to the DPRK, and supplements this dismissal with rhetorical adaptation and bureaucratic tactics that seek to inhibit the norm. Ironically, China’s actions to limit the norm, even in the present where the enthusiasm for the responsibility to protect is at its nadir post-Libya, is an indicator of China’s view that the responsibility to protect has the potential to spur non-consensual intervention. My research explains why China regards the DPRK as a ‘non-case’ for the responsibility to protect, and draws upon an extensive use of Chinese- and English-language documentation, and interviews with US, Chinese, and Korean foreign policy elites.
Courtney J. Fung is Assistant Professor of International Relations in the Department of Politics and Public Administration at the University of Hong Kong. She was previously a research fellow with the East Asia Institute, Seoul in their Program on Peace, Governance, and Development in East Asia, and a post-doctoral research fellow with the then Princeton- Harvard China and the World Program, based at the Fairbank Center for Chinese Studies, Harvard University. Her forthcoming book, China and Intervention at the UN Security Council: Reconciling Status, is forthcoming with Oxford University Press in fall 2019