By Scott Kirwin
The change was subtle amid scrambled signals coming from out of the region. South Korean (ROK) intel was completely at odds with the American gleaned from Chinese intercepts. South Korean intelligence observers had seen Chinese uniforms before across the DMZ, but never more than a an advisor or two. The baker’s dozen indicated something had changed. Their behavior matched the ROK intel: Chinese officers were now in place in the North Korean army and were commanding NK regulars along the border.
Within hours the story appeared in Chinese media: North Korean leader Kim Jongun had suffered a stroke and had been flown to Beijing for immediate care. In his place North Korean premier Pak Pongju had requested Chinese assistance to deter any aggression by the “devil forces” of America, South Korea and Japan. The Chinese had obliged, sending in 150,000 troops into the country and announced that any attack on North Korea would be seen as an attack on the People’s Republic of China, resulting in “grave consequences for the aggressors.”
The above was a plausible non-violent end to the North Korean problem that has bedeviled the US and its allies for 65 years. In this scenario the Chinese take over North Korea by removing the Kim regime and replacing it with a fully controlled puppet.
America doesn’t have a North Korea problem. It has a China problem.
The Chinese like to portray North Korea as a fully independent state which it can’t control. This gives it plausible deniability whenever North Korea shells South Korea, conducts a nuclear test, or fires off a missile into the Japan Sea. But the Chinese haven’t forgotten the Kim regime would not exist had it not been for the Chinese communists who crossed the Yalu River and rolled back the American forces during the Korean War. The Chinese have never let go of North Korea, and until recently it has been a useful tool to extract concessions out of America and its allies or bog them down in pointless negotiations or military expenditures.
But times have changed. North Korean belligerence hasn’t driven a wedge between America and its allies in the region: it has done the complete opposite, the NK threat helping to forge deeper ties between Seoul and Washington, Tokyo and Washington and even Seoul and Tokyo. Worse North Korea has emboldened Japanese nationalists to ignore Article 9 of the Japanese constitution that demilitarized Japan and build up Japan’s military.
China has three great fears
- A unified Korea. China cannot accept a reunified, capitalist Korea allied to the USA on its borders. It would be far graver for China than the reunified Germany was to the Soviet Union in 1990. China will do everything in its power to guarantee the division, even putting up with an increasingly erratic regime in the North that is undermining Chinese policy.
- Military threats to China posed by South Korea and Japan. Expanded and modernized South Korean and Japanese militaries present a nightmare to the Chinese military. They make it more difficult for China to enforce the “9 Dash Line” in the South China sea, and would encourage Taiwan to maintain its distance from Beijing or worse, assist in the event Beijing decided to reunify the two Chinas by force.
- The Pacific as an “American Pond” with China confined to the Asian landmass. China sees its future in the Pacific and is developing a navy to guarantee that future. Increased American presence in the Pacific is viewed by China as a “zero-sum” game with China losing and America winning. China currently lacks the ability to project force in the area the way the US can, but it is working hard to catch up.
North Korea inflames all of these fears. Unfortunately for the United States China doesn’t yet recognize this.
When it does it will see that the solution is for China to take over the North using a puppet regime. It would roll-back the North’s nuclear program, thereby decreasing the necessity for South Korea and Japan to expand their militaries and seek closer ties with the USA. It would put into place reforms similar to Deng’s to allow North Korea to follow the “Chinese model” of a communist country modernizing quickly. It would likely face a flood of refugees from North Korea, so it would likely maintain strict border control to limit North Koreans from leaving. This would not only prevent China from being overwhelmed by refugees, it would prevent the “Austrian Scenario” that happened in 1989 when Hungary opened its borders with Austria and Eastern Europeans flooded into the West. China must prevent North Koreans from getting to the South via China to avoid unification, so strict border security would be put in place to prevent that from happening.
China has the power to end the North Korean threat without weakening its own position in the region. A Chinese takeover of the rogue state is exactly what the world needs and should be encouraged by the US and its allies.
Photo by photographybanzai