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China remains North Korea's chief ally. In addition to sharing its status as one of the last communist regimes in the world, China views the Korean peninsula as vital to its strategic interests. Beijing values North Korea as a buffer between the democratic South Korea and the U.S. forces stationed there, as a rationale to divert U.S. and Japanese resources in the Asia Pacific toward dealing with Pyongyang and less focused on the growing military might of China, and as a destination for Chinese foreign investment and trade. Beijing arguably has more influence in Pyongyang than any other nation.
Cooperation between the two countries is extensive but often strained. In 1961, China and the DPRK signed a mutual defense pact, but recently a Chinese official reportedly said that they are not "well informed of the internal situation of the North Korean military" and that the DPRK "does not listen to what China has to say." (113) (This presumably referred to Pyongyang's missile and nuclear tests.) Also with respect to North Korean refugees, their first destination is usually northeastern China. According to Human Rights Watch, China labels North Korean border-crossers as illegal economic migrants, rather than refugees or asylum seekers, and usually sends them back to North Korea. (114)
China also is hosting and facilitating the ongoing Six-Party Talks that …