This paper starts from the assumption that geostrategic and security interests alone are not sufficient to explain China's foreign policy choices. It argues that ideas about what China's role as an actor in the increasingly globalized international system should be, and about world order in general, deeply impact on China's foreign policymaking process. Taking the North Korean issue as a case study, this paper postulates that China is currently engaged in a search for a 'new' identity as a global player. China's actor identity is composed of various partly contradictory role conceptions. National roles derived from China's internal system structures and its historical past lead to continuity in Chinese foreign policy, while the 'new' roles resultant from China's rise to global powerdom require an adaptation of its foreign policy principles. In the case of its relationship with North Korea, China's foreign policy is oscillating between the two roles of 'socialist power' - thus being a comrade-in-arms with its socialist neighbour - and 'responsible great power', which leads to China being expected to comply with international norms and thus to condemn North Korea's nuclear provocations and related actions. As a close reading of Chinese publications on China's North Korea strategy shows, the main principles underlying it have not changed. Recent claims that there is a tendency in China's foreign policy towards the abandonment of North Korea lack solid empirical foundations and essentially amount to wishful thinking.
China North Korea great power national identity role theory socialist power