2003 March 04 Tuesday
China Still Unwilling To Pressure North Korea

In an article entitled "China's self-defeating North Korea gamble" Marc Erikson argues China has most to lose by failing to rein in North Korea.

China to date has not publicly reacted to the announcement of the joint US-Japan TMD exercises nor - to my knowledge - has it complained about Japan's plans to develop its own reconnaissance-satellite system. But that's just a matter of time or timing. Any TMD system capable of covering the Koreas from Japan is equally capable of covering Taiwan - to China's certain chagrin. By not acting on the North Korea threat now, China is inviting a militarily more assertive and capable Japan neither it nor the rest of Asia will be happy with.

Unfortunately, theater missile defense is not yet possible. Even if it was it would do nothing to prevent North Korea from selling weapons grade uranium or plutonium or even nuclear weapons after it has made enough to satisfy its own desires for nuclear weapons.

Writing in the Asian Times Korean writer Jaewoo Choo explores the history of the China-North Korea relationship.

In addition, China's growing contacts and exchanges with South Korea undermined North Korea's confidence in its relationship with China. Its participation in the Asian Games and the Summer Olympics in 1986 and 1988, respectively, both held in Seoul, was seen as an act of a betrayal to North Korea. Furthermore, as an attempt to disrupt the two events, North Korea committed sabotage only to lose face as China joined the international community to mourn the tragedies.

Choo says Chinese foreign policy academics have paid little attention to North Korea.

It was not until the '90s, especially after China formally recognized South Korea in 1992, when China's academic interest in the Korean Peninsula and Korean affairs began to blossom. However, most of the academic research and scholarly works concerning the Korean Peninsula tended to focus on South Korea rather than its northern counterpart.

China's foreign policy establishment needs to spend more time thinking about how a nuclear North Korea would cause South Korea and Japan to respond. But it is possible that they have already decided that they can live with Japan and South Korea as nuclear powers.

Choo says that China will not cut off economic aid to North Korea and block trade with it because China sees the continued stability of the North Korean regime to be a net benefit to China.

Immediate economic sanction by China against North Korea would have the leverage effect on North Korea's behavior that the international diplomatic community would like to see. However, it might also generate undesirable side-effects: exodus of North Korean refugees into China, Japan, and South Korea because of economic hardship, and the collapse of the Kim Jong-il regime. Against this potential chaos, many observers of China affairs, including the Chinese themselves, have run their computers and concluded that it would be of much greater advantage and benefit for China to keep holding the supporting line for North Korea. In addition, survival of North Korea would maintain a buffer function to China's national-security interests in Northeast Asia.

To date the Chinese government has not provided any indication that it is willing to apply substantial pressure to prevent North Korea from going nuclear. As the likelihood of a nuclear North Korea sinks in other countries directly involved are signalling their unease with the situation. Even South Korean president Kim Dae Jung has hinted South Korea could go nuclear if North Korea does so.

On the other hand, who can really blame Japanese hawks for discussing nuclear options when even South Korea's outgoing president Kim Dae Jung, usually soft-spoken and dovish when dealing with his cousins in the north, got carried away in the heat of the moment. "If North Korea gets nuclear weapons, the stance of Japan and our country toward nuclear weapons could change," he said on February 18, advising Pyongyang not to "even dream of getting nuclear weapons."

Will North Korea economically decline to the point where the government collapses? There are certainly many signs of decay. North Korea is no longer able to deliver clean water to its people.

The energy shortage is also fueling malnutrition and hunger, Hayes said. With no electricity to pump water, a tremendous amount of labor is expended in food production and at harvest time. Agricultural waste is being burned for heat rather than being composted; topsoil is being eroded and crop production has declined. Sewage systems in cities have collapsed because they lack power, and without chlorine to clean drinking water, waste is mixing with the water supply, causing widespread dysentery.

Many commentators call for direct negotiation between the United States and North Korea. Such negotiations are not going to accomplish anything. Kim Jong-il was pursuing uranium enrichment efforts in the 1990s at the height of engagement while lots of US aid was flowing to North Korea.

The US has a few approaches it could pursue that might stop North Korea short of a war. One is to convince China that the consequences of its continued support of the North Korean regime are going to be more undesireable than the alternative of applying pressure on North Korea. Another alternative is to make a larger effort to reach the populace of North Korea with information that undermines their support for their government. Also, the US could try to organize a complete cut-off of trade and financial support of North Korea from countries other than China. For instance, Japan could cut off trade and also make a bigger effort to block ethnic Koreans in Japan from sending money to North Korea.

The best outcome for the US would be the collapse of the North Korean regime. Toward that end the United States should try harder to break the information monopoly the North Korean regime holds over its people. It is not clear that a large effort to provide North Koreans with alternative information about the world would lead to the regime's downfall. But it seems worth a try. The biggest problem with that approach is that it might take years to have sufficient effect. By the time North Korea finally collapses it may already have sold nuclear weapons.

Update: Trent Telenko sees the decay of the electric grid as a sign that North Korea's collapse is near. I sincerely hope he is right.

Joe Katzman points to the DefenseTech blog link to a New York Times story on radio smuggling into North Korea.

SEOUL, South Korea As the Pentagon studies moving tons of military hardware within striking range of North Korea, some say the weapon most feared by the Stalinist government there may be a disposable radio the size of a cigarette pack.

"Little throwaway radios, you listen, you throw away the smaller the better, the more disposable, the better," said Pastor Douglas E. Shin, a Korean-American human rights activist who advocates smuggling thousands of tiny radios capable of receiving foreign broadcasts into the North.

The article quotes a number of people who correctly emphasise the huge potential impact that outside sources of information could have on the thinking of people in North Korea. The North Koreans do not know how much worse off they are than South Korea and much of the rest of the world. However, the article is short on facts in terms of whether any South Korean or American groups are really smuggling radios into North Korea and if so in what quantity. Yes, its a great idea. But is anyone doing it? If so, how much?

Efforts to break the information monopoly that the North Korean regime has over its people are potentially the most powerful tool that can be used against the North Korean regime. It seems unlikely that China will join the US in trying to pressure the North Koreans to stop WMD development. In fact, the Chinese government may think that North Korea's efforts are working in favor of China's plan to get US forces out of South Korea. In the comments section of this post "Just Some Guy" pointed to an excellent article entitled "Why China ignores Korea's nuclear crisis" by Haesook Chae.

However, if the situation were framed solely as a dispute between the United States and North Korea, the focus would be shifted to what North Korea is demanding in exchange for nuclear disarmament. North Korea, with its far-reaching missile capability, would then be perceived as a direct threat to U.S. security. Combined with South Korea's strong resistance to taking military action against the North, the United States could well be cornered into conceding to North Korean demands, namely, a nonaggression treaty and a military withdrawal from South Korea. China then would have achieved its short-term goal of removing U.S. troops from the peninsula.

If Chae is correct then the best option the US has for stopping the North Korean nuclear development program is to reach the North Korean people with massive amounts of information about the outside world. The North Korean people can suffer terribly. But they will not know that it is in their interest to turn against their government as long as they do not know about the consequences of alternative ways to structure a society.

Update II: Writing in the Christian Science Monitor the always insightful Robert Marquand reports on thinking in Japanese and US foreign policy circles on what to do about North Korea.

While China, Russia, and Asian neighbors say the US should hold bilateral talks with the North, it is uncertain whether there is much common ground even if the parties were to meet. "We would tell him, 'Stop making nuclear weapons.' We would say, 'if you want aid, money, food, energy, relations with Japan, then comply with your agreements,' " one State Department Korea specialist says. "But Kim already knows that. Frankly, we are starting to think Kim doesn't really want talks."

Update III: See two other recent posts on North Korea The Problem of North Korea and Why North Korea Pursues WMD Development. Also see additional posts on North Korea in the Preemption, Deterrence and Containment archive and in the Axis Of Evil archive.

Update IV: After meeting with Chinese leaders Colin Powell reports that China is doing something privately to deal with North Korea.

After meeting with Chinese Vice President and Communist Party chief Hu Jintao and Foreign Minister Tang Jiaxuan, Powell told a news conference that China was undertaking initiatives with North Korea that he was unable to discuss publicly.

China wants the United States to sell out Taiwan in exchange for help on North Korea. The US is not going to do that. China basically wants to capture Taiwan while at the same time keeping the North Korean regime intact. The US wants to help Taiwan remain independent and would like to see the North Korean regime fall.

When China says it has security concerns with Taiwan it basically means that Taiwan has enough military power to prevent China from capturing it. Taiwan is not a military threat to China. China would like to force the US out of South Korea, to capture Taiwan, and to use North Korea as a proxy to cause trouble for the US elsewhere. This is not a friendly relationship. The US and China have serious differences.

Share |      By Randall Parker at 2003 March 04 12:36 AM  Korea

Just Some Guy said at March 4, 2003 2:39 AM:

Here's another view on China's motives concerning
North Korea, entitled "Why China Ignores Korea's Nuclear
Crisis" by Haesook Chae:


(found on www.realclearpolitics.com)

The gist: China craves "the removal of the U.S. military
presence from the Korean peninsula."
(And I think this comes with the implication that China
believes the US would rather bug out than fight.)

Even if you don't buy the author's whole theory, I think
it's plausible that it's a factor in their calculations.

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