North Korea’s relationship with China had always been complex and ambivalent, ostensibly bound by common ideology but potentially fractured by nationalism. Regardless, Pyongyang refrained from openly opposing Beijing until 1965–1966. The standard interpretations have primarily cited the Cultural Revolution and differences about the Soviet Union as main reasons for the degeneration of their bilateral relations. The previous emphasis on the disruptive impact of the Cultural Revolution and the Soviet Union, however, has obscured a new source of contention emanating from their divergence about the American threat. During this time, North Korea assessed Beijing’s efforts to avoid a direct confrontation with the United States over Vietnam, coupled with the dominance of anti-Sovietism, as evidence of China’s growing disregard for fraternal solidarity and unity of alliance. Consequently, Pyongyang redefined Beijing for the first time as an impediment to the joint struggle against American imperialism and a doubtful asset in the pursuit of militant strategy towards South Korea. Accordingly, an explicit criticism of China underpinned Pyongyang’s accelerated promotion of independence from 1965–1966, which was advanced as clearly more anti-American and theoretically principled position than Chinese policy towards the United States.
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