By Scott Kirwin
As of today Kim JungUn is still in power. Awhile back I imagined a possible scenario where China removes Kim and installs a puppet regime beholden to Beijing but less threatening to its neighbors. I wrote, “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.” Yet since writing that China has done little to tighten the screws on its neighbor and ally, and has instead softened its tone with the North and sharpened its rhetoric with the United States. Reuters reports, “Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi told the 15-member council it was not only up to China to solve the North Korean problem. “The key to solving the nuclear issue on the peninsula does not lie in the hands of the Chinese side,” Wang told the council in blunt remarks that Tillerson later rebuffed.”
China prefers the status quo, but as is common with consensus governing systems like that found in China and Japan, it doesn’t comprehend the scale of the crisis and is much less capable of reacting to it quickly than other countries. It believes that this storm will blow over and North Korea will return to being its puppet whose strings are erased through media propaganda. That has happened in the past, but each time we edge closer to all-out conflict. We never have gone back completely to where we were before Kim’s missile and nuke tests and rhetoric.
“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.”
If the US is going to expend blood and treasure removing the regime, China must be made to understand that after we are through we will not hand over the land above the 38th parallel to another communist regime. Instead we will occupy it and hand it over to the South Koreans. China will then have a democratic, capitalist US-ally on its border.
The US of course doesn’t want to do that. It would be terribly costly. The civilian death toll in Seoul alone would be horrifying, and Japan would likely not escape a brief war unscathed either. But the US has its own fears which the Chinese must understand and accept. The US cannot allow North Korea to develop ICBM and nuclear technology allowing it to strike cities in the US. If necessary the US will pay the cost to prevent that from happening, and if we do we should not allow China to dictate the terms of the solution afterward.
China has the power to change North Korea now. If it doesn’t, the US must make clear to the Chinese that it will lose all leverage once the missiles fly. The Chinese don’t understand that yet, and it up to the Trump administration and our allies to convince them soon.