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    Greater China
     Jun 3, 2010
SINOGRAPH
Flaws in pulling plug on North Korea
By Francesco Sisci

BEIJING - It is right, as the Washington Post said in its May 31 editorial, China has been shielding the regime of Kim Jong-il in North Korea that torpedoed and sank a South Korean warship on March 26. Although an international investigation blames North Korea, Beijing has refused to point the finger at Pyongyang.

China is North Korea's main trading partner and main supplier of energy and food. Without China, North Korea could shrink and die. This shows that China is propping up a regime that deserves to be cast into history. China could conversely pull the plug on North Korea and the Kim dynasty and its minions, who oppress over 20 million Koreans, would disappear.

This reasoning is clear and straightforward, but as most things too

 

straight, it is also deeply flawed.

China pulls the plug on North Korea and then what? It is far from sure that North Korea would just melt down without lobbing missiles at Japan, without bombarding South Korea with its thousands of weapons along the truce line. And who then would take care of the impoverished North Koreans? They number about a third of South Korea's population, yet every year make only one twentieth of what their South Koreans compatriots earn. That is: they are relatively more in number than East Germans compared to West Germans at the time of reunification in 1989 - and are far poorer. It took some 20 years for West Germany to absorb East Germany, it could take well over half a century for South Koreans to do the same with North Koreans.

Is South Korea willing to do that? Apparently no. There are only about 1,000 North Korean refugees in the South, but more than 100,000 in China. In other words, the Chinese host about a hundred times more North Korean refugees than the South Korean "brethren".

If South Korea wanted to send a clear message to the world it could start campaigning to absorb North Koreans. Millions of East Germans fled to the West well before reunification. The North could get angry, but it could well collapse. Yet there are geopolitical implications and questions surrounding the risks of a united Korea. There could be trouble in China and Japan, both of which have active North Korean minorities.

Or what about the future regional balance of power? Thousands of American troops, now stationed in the region to avert a North Korean threat, would have to pull out or find a new raison d’etre. In both cases it would be very complicated. Without an American presence, Japan would start to re-arm to defend itself against China and China would do the same, leading to a dangerous arms race. Keeping American troops would not do the trick either, as this would pose the irksome question of whether their presence would be against a possible Chinese threat, or for what?

Those venting their frustration against China who don't have any answers to such questions are beating a dead horse. No need for conspiracy theories, it is enough to believe that many political decisions are quite whimsical and superficial, otherwise the US would not have plunged into disastrous adventures in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Conflict in North Korea could have occurred long ago, and it could have been worse than the other two, yet thanks to the patience and perseverance of a bunch of skilled diplomats mainly from the US and China, this disaster has been avoided, and American taxpayers have thus been saved billions of dollars in war bills.

Is it time to change the policy? Possibly (as I have argued elsewhere (Tough love for an unstable neighbor Asia Times Online, May 29, 2010) this could also be an opportunity. North Korea has underscored it can be a threat to neighbors even without nuclear weapons. Therefore, Pyongyang could have a reason to give up its nukes in return for some aid to buttress its failing economy.

There are a lot of "ifs" in this predicament, and one may have good reasons to lose patience. But certainly there are even more reasons for keeping cool and thinking creatively for possible solutions. Blaming China for shielding Pyongyang is not one of them.

Francesco Sisci is the Asia Editor of La Stampa.

(Copyright 2010 Francesco Sisci.)


Beijing changes tune on nuclear Kim
(May 18, '10)


1. Unmasked: Thailand's men in black

2. The American century is so over

3. Iran: Obama's other oil spill

4. Deadly silence at the DMZ

5. Tough love for an unstable neighbor

6. Obama shakes pillars of US security

7. Southeast Asian Muslims for dummies

8. China pulls the strings

9. Pyongyang sees US role in Cheonan sinking

10. South Korea in the line of friendly fire

(May 28-31, 2010)

 
 



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