Before becoming president, Donald Trump asserted that he "would get China to make that guy [North Korean leader Kim Jong Un] disappear in one form or another very quickly." However, a wide variety of new archival sources and high-quality secondary scholarship from around the world suggest that, at least during the Cold War, Beijing's attempts to interfere in North Korean elite politics proved surprisingly ineffective. In 1956, China and the Soviet Union sent a joint delegation to convince Kim Il Sung, the founder of the regime, to reverse his decision to purge critics within the elite. Ten years later, the Chinese again took steps that threatened Kim's leadership. Understanding Kim Il Sung's resilience in the face of these challenges requires a new way of thinking about why authoritarian leaders are able to defeat their competitors. Kim did not emerge triumphant by co-opting potential detractors or paying them off, but by relying on his personal prestige as a partisan fighting against the Japanese in Manchuria and the personal connections he developed during that time period.
Joseph Torigian studies Chinese, Russian, and North Korean politics and foreign policy. Joseph has worked at the Council on Foreign Relations and studied China's policies towards Central Asia as a Fulbright Scholar at Fudan University in Shanghai. He has conducted dissertation research at the Higher School of Economics in Moscow and as a visiting scholar at the Institute for Security and Conflict Studies at George Washington University. Before coming to Princeton, Joseph was a Predoctoral and Postdoctoral Fellow at Stanford's Center for International Security and Cooperation. He received a BA in Political Science at the University of Michigan and a Ph.D in Political Science at MIT. Joseph speaks Chinese and Russian. His dissertation examined the internal power struggles fought by Nikita Khrushchev, Deng Xiaoping, and Kim Il Sung, with a focus on the military. At the China and the World Program, he will write on the co-evolution of nuclear doctrine in China and the Soviet Union and the 1969 Sino-Soviet border crisis.