Wednesday, April 12, 2017

China and North Korea

       China apparently is taking the United States seriously when it comes to North Korea. China's Global Times, in a story reporting on the United States' communications to North Korea and redeployment of a carrier group, goes on to deliver a strong warning to North Korea:
        A new nuclear test or an intercontinental ballistic missile test, if conducted by Pyongyang at this time, will be a slap in the face of the US government and will intensify the confrontation between North Korea and the US.  
        Presumably Beijing will react strongly to Pyongyang's new nuclear actions. China will not remain indifferent to Pyongyang's aggravating violation of the UN Security Council (UNSC) resolution.  
        More and more Chinese support the view that the government should enhance sanctions over Pyongyang's nuclear activities. If the North makes another provocative move this month, the Chinese society will be willing to see the UNSC adopt severe restrictive measures that have never been seen before, such as restricting oil imports to the North. Pyongyang's nuclear weapons program is intended for securing the regime, however, it is reaching a tipping point. Pyongyang hopes its gamble will work, but all signs point to the opposite direction.  
        The US is making up its mind to stop the North from conducting further nuclear tests, it doesn't plan to co-exist with a nuclear-armed Pyongyang. 
        China supports solution of the North Korean nuclear issue under the framework of UNSC and Six-Party Talks. If the US takes unilateral action, it will win little international support. Pyongyang can continue its tough stance, however, for its own security, it should at least halt provocative nuclear and missile activities.  
        Pyongyang should avoid making mistakes at this time.   
       Some in the media have indicated or insinuated that China and America were coordinating or acting in tandem. For instance, Business Insider opines that "Whatever Trump said to China about North Korea, it seems like it worked." The article indicates that the United States has no intention of attacking North Korea and risking a retaliatory strike against South Korea, but that threats over trade have influenced China to finally take the situation in hand.

       I disagree that there is any real coordination between China and the U.S. As I noted a couple of days ago, China would rather depose Kim Jong Un and put in place a puppet government (such effort supported by Chinese troops, of course), than to allow North Korea to fall under control of South Korea or the West. Strategy Page makes a similar argument:
       China wants a stable communist dictatorship in North Korea, not a failed government that would send several million starving refugees fleeing across the border. China also does not want North Korea to collapse and get absorbed by South Korea. That would put a democracy on China's border and give many Chinese a view of how things might be much better with a different political system in China. Koreans are seen as "younger brothers" to China, and it's embarrassing if the younger brother outdoes his older sibling. South Korean democracy is played down in China, but that would be difficult if a democratic, united, Korea were right on the border. 
       The Chinese have made it more obvious to the North Korean leadership that China will support pro-China elements in the North Korean government if the current North Korean leadership fails to turn things around. China has recently sent 150,000 additional troops to the North Korean border to emphasize Chinese concern. While many of these troops are there for training (which the Chinese Army is doing a lot more of), other are to reinforce border security and most of those additional troops are showing up at the border so North Koreans can see them and draw their own conclusions. The latest escalation is accompanied by blunt suggestions in Chinese state controlled media that perhaps some Chinese military action inside North Korea might be more persuasive. 
       At the moment the Chinese are concentrating on persuading North Korea to drop its nuclear weapons program, which is seen as aimed at China as well as South Korea, Japan and the United States. The Chinese don't mind if the North Koreans extract a high price from South Korea, Japan and America for this, as long as the nukes are gone, and stay gone. Again, failure to comply may lead to more energetic action against Kim dynasty rule.

Read the whole thing.

      Could this event spark World War III? I suppose in theory it could, but it seems unlikely in reality. The original Korean War didn't spark a global war because, although the United States was fighting Chinese troops in Korea, the U.S. did not directly threaten China, which potentially could have pulled the Soviets into a war since they were allied with China at the time. The United States also refrained from using nuclear weapons which could have escalated the conflict.

       Even if the United States launched strikes at North Korea, and even if the South sent troops across the border into the North, it doesn't present an existential threat to China. The likely result, in any event, is that China will pour troops across to "stabilize" North Korea, and the United States and/or South Korea will not attempt to force their way into territory occupied by those Chinese troops. Then will come the diplomacy and probably an "international" peace keeping force, which will largely be Chinese, maybe some ROK troops or U.N. Peacekeepers, but without any U.S. forces (at least in any significant numbers).

       As I noted the other day, because of the drag on South Korea's economy in the event of reunification, China would probably rather let North Korea rejoin South Korea than risk a war with the United States over it. The real victory for China would be a unified Korea (even if that meant a democracy directly adjoining its borders) with U.S. troops and military hardware removed from the peninsula, perhaps as a condition of reunification.

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