The US, North Korea, and China

In the wake of North Korea’s latest missile launch National Security Adviser H. R. McMaster admitted that military action is becoming more and more likely – and indeed, time is getting short to prevent the NORK’s from getting an ICBM tipped with a nuke. China is again getting some attention as the one country to prevent this from happening but here again, interests collide.  China’s interests in the region are stability first, no nukes, second; the US, on the other hand, is no nukes, first and foremost.

In addition, part of what needs to be seen is that China views the United States as the greater threat to them than a nuclear North Korea.  China’s interest in the South China Sea and the Spratly Islands is no small example.  Then of course, there is the issue of Taiwan, which never seems to go away.  Trade with China is also becoming more and more of an issue.  So, when China hears that the US is continuing to ask for their assistance in “persuading” Kim Jong-Un into relaxing his nuclear ambition, there are a few other issues on the table that need to be addressed.

Stability in the region is obviously of mutual interest for both the US and China–but defining what that “stability” looks like is a huge question mark as there is no such thing as a “loyal opposition” within the North Korean government to look to, to replace Kim – he has taken care of that right down to eliminating his own family members.

Then again, there is the very real possibility that the Chinese–and the Russians (and possibly Iran)–are betting that the NORK nuclear and ICBM issue is a “red line” that the US will not cross.  According to Michael Yon, the view here is that North Korea represents a “very low risk/high reward” in a major geopolitical endgame.  If the US doesn’t cross this red line, stability would remain–but we’d be throwing all of our allies in the region, i.e., South Korea and Japan, especially, under the proverbial bus.  If we cross it . . .  well, military action often solves the immediate problem, only to create others of a different sort.  If indeed the line is crossed, China will not stand for a unified Korea under American auspices; I believe that much is clearly understood.  Secondly, as mentioned above, there is no one apparent to whom the reins of power could be left to in Kim’s absence or demise.  Finally, if the US, and its allies, took some sort of military action–even if only a naval blockade of all of North Korea–the Chinese would be involved in some manner or another, and who knows what that would look like–both during, and after, the US action.

And while it might be agreed upon that North Korea is within China’s sphere of influence, there are no talks–that we know of–behind the scenes between the US and China about China simply going in and replacing the Kim regime, ala what the Soviets did in the 1956 Hungarian uprising or in the ’68 Czech rebellion during the Cold War–if the Chinese would even be able to do something like this.

As H.R. McMaster mentioned earlier in the week, time is running out and the NORK’s seem to learn after every failure–and they are becoming very quick learners.  If a stable-de-nuclearized North Korea is in the offing, time is definitely running out for a peaceful solution, unless the current administration simply rolls over and capitulates to the North Koreans as the last several administrations have.


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