NORTHEAST ASIA: by Jeffry Babb News Weekly
North Korea, China's junkyard dog
, April 27, 2013
China faces many problems. These problems, if not addressed, will in the long run threaten the Chinese Communist Party’s hold on power.
Among these problems are the growing gap between rich and poor; the plight of the so-called “migrant workers” who form an urban proletariat with few rights, political or social; the inevitable contraction of the labour force due to China’s foolish and inhuman one-child policy, which is gradually being retrenched; and industrial pollution, which in some areas, including Beijing, is reaching life-threatening levels.
Many “friends of China” argue that Beijing does not have the ability or the managerial talent to undertake an aggressive foreign policy. This is not correct. China is one of the few countries in the world with the economic and strategic clout to project influence worldwide.
Admittedly, China does not have the ability to project military power in the manner of the United States, but that will change. China’s reconditioned Ukrainian aircraft-carrier is mainly for training and could not match a US aircraft-carrier group.
A carrier group, of which the Americans have 10, contains about 20 ships, including nuclear submarines. This group must be controlled and maintain command and communication links. A carrier by itself is vulnerable and of little utility in combat.
According to China’s foreign ministry, the Middle Kingdom pursues an “independent foreign policy of peace”.
It stated a decade ago: “China opposes hegemonism and preserves world peace. China believes that all countries, big or small, strong or weak, rich or poor, are equal members of the international community. Countries should resolve their disputes and conflicts peacefully through consultations and not resort to the use of threat of force. Nor should they interfere in others’ internal affairs under any pretext.” (August 18, 2003).
Where then does this put North Korea? The Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK) — North Korea, as it is almost universally known — is said to be China’s ally, in fact China’s sole ally. China says it wishes “to actively develop good-neighbourly relations of friendship with the surrounding countries. China has resolved problems left over by history with the overwhelming majority of neighbouring countries.” However, China has seemingly insoluble problems with Japan.
No-one really wants the reunification of Korea. Korea, if you look at the map, is like a dagger pointing at the heart of Japan. The Chinese don’t want a reunified Korea because South Korea would inevitably dominate any such unified state. South Korea is so far ahead of the impoverished North that it would take generations of economic rebuilding to even catch up with the South.
The government in Seoul has before it the example of East and West Germany. Even though East Germany was the most advanced member of the Soviet bloc, reintegrating it into a united Germany cost $1.9 trillion.
And what about North Korea? North Korea is the sole hereditary dynasty to emerge from communism. No one could seriously contemplate the Kim family giving up the perks of office in exchange for reunification.
North Korea is a relatively small and weak country that is always on the verge of starvation. The Kim family have always pursued a “crazy, brave and stupid” strategy to gain maximum concessions from other countries, including China. Most experts agree it is unlikely that the North would start a war that the North Koreans were bound to lose. Not only would the country be destroyed, the Kims would lose their throne. And the “crazy brave stupid” strategy suits Kim Jung-un, because he might just be crazy enough to start a war if the world doesn’t do what he wants them to do.
What about China? China does not want reunification because it does not want a US ally — as a unified Korea would almost inevitably be — sitting on its north-western border, adjoining what we would call Manchuria.
North Korea is China’s junkyard dog. The dog can’t be entirely controlled, which makes it even more useful to menace people China doesn’t like, such as the Americans.
US troop numbers have been boosted to 37,000 in recent months, considerably more than agreed with Seoul. The US force would blunt a North Korean attack and act as a tripwire so that US forces were inevitably involved in any war.
China does not have a political strategy based on a formal alliance structure as the US does with NATO, ANZUS and so on. China wishes to be at the centre of a Sinocentric sphere of influence. Thus, it uses Cambodia to bracket Vietnam, a traditional enemy, and Burma and Pakistan to bracket the ancient enemy, India.
North Korea is being provocative at a time when the situation in the Southeast China Sea and the East China Sea is tense. As for the nuclear threat, the North Koreans have not yet been able miniaturise a nuclear bomb to act as a warhead. The delivery system and a medium-range rocket are not sufficiently accurate or reliable to pose a real threat to the US and Japan, experts say. But that may change.
Jeffry Babb has visited every country in Southeast and East Asia, including South Korea, with the exception of North Korea.