The road to re­al­ity in Py­ongyang

China has good rea­sons for re­luc­tance to put Kim Jong-un on a leash

The Washington Times Daily - - EDITORIAL -

The road to re­al­ity in Py­ongyang leads through Bei­jing, and it’s a road with many pot­holes. China doesn’t want chaos in North Korea, but nei­ther does it want to give up the means to profit from that chaos. Nev­er­the­less, North Korea’s sec­ond in­ter­con­ti­nen­tal bal­lis­tics mis­sile launch last week caught the at­ten­tion of the five coun­tries with a stake in a sta­ble Korean penin­sula.

China, Ja­pan, South Korea, the United States and Rus­sia all have their rea­sons for re­luc­tance to see a strong, united and in­de­pen­dent Korea. South Korea’s be­com­ing the world’s 11th largest econ­omy and the fourth largest in Asia, achieved in a gen­er­a­tion, sug­gests what might hap­pen with the ad­di­tion to the econ­omy of the North’s ex­ten­sive min­er­als.

How­ever tempt­ing it may be de­stroy a North Korean ICBM and kill Kim Jong-un, this might set off un­con­trol­lable chaos, per­haps even a re­sump­tion of the Korean War, which cost 33,686 Amer­i­can dead be­fore a truce calmed the fight­ing in 1953.

Pres­i­dent Trump’s romance with Pres­i­dent Xi Ping has turned bit­ter and sour and Mr. Trump has a point, that since North Korea re­lies on China for 90 per­cent of its ex­ter­nal trade, in­clud­ing food, and Py­ongyang’s mis­sile and nu­clear tech­nol­ogy largely re­lies on Chi­nese loans, Pres­i­dent Xi could do some­thing about the crazy fat kid if he re­ally wants to cool ten­sions on the penin­sula.

“Our fool­ish past lead­ers have al­lowed [the Chi­nese] to make hun­dreds of bil­lions of dol­lars a year in trade,” Mr. Trump says, “yet ... they do noth­ing for us with North Korea, just talk. We will no longer al­low this to con­tinue. China could eas­ily solve this prob­lem.”

This sim­pli­fies the dif­fi­cult China-North Korean re­la­tion­ship, how­ever. China in­cludes more than 2.6 mil­lion eth­nic Kore­ans, to­gether with 250,000 re­cent refugees, mostly con­cen­trated along their mu­tual 800-mile bor­der. Fur­ther, there’s a close mil­i­tary al­liance formed in the Korean War when Chi­nese in­ter­ven­tion halted Gen. Dou­glas MacArthur’s ad­vance to­ward the Yalu River bor­der that briefly ap­peared to be a de facto re­uni­fi­ca­tion of the two Koreas. China is not ea­ger to deal with the col­lapse of North Korea, like that in Ger­many, once the strong­est satel­lite of the old Soviet Bloc.

De­spite lim­ited mea­sures to squeeze Py­ongyang eco­nom­i­cally in re­sponse to United Na­tions and U.S. sanc­tions against its mis­sile and nu­clear pro­grams, trade be­tween China and North Korea has steadily in­creased, up 37 per­cent over last year in the first quar­ter. In Fe­bru­ary China tem­po­rar­ily sus­pended coal im­ports and it might sup­port ban­ning oil ex­ports to North Korea if Py­ongyang con­ducts fur­ther nu­clear tests. Some Chi­nese of­fi­cials have urged that it do so. Re­gional an­a­lysts say that would strongly, and prof­itably, warn that China is “los­ing pa­tience” with Kim Jong-un. Oth­ers sug­gest these moves are merely tac­ti­cal.

North Korea’s di­ver­sion of re­sources to the world’s largest mil­i­tary es­tab­lish­ment — 5,889,000 per­sons as­signed to para­mil­i­tary forces, 25 per­cent of the pop­u­la­tion of the coun­try — pro­duced famine in the 1990s. Be­tween 800,000 and 2.4 mil­lion died. In June 2015 North Korea suf­fered its worst drought in decades and the next year dev­as­tat­ing floods fol­lowed.

The United States may now have to pun­ish Chi­nese firms push­ing North Korean ex­ports much in the way it dealt with coun­ter­feit cur­rency op­er­a­tions in the first decade of the new cen­tury. With the Chi­nese econ­omy now ex­pe­ri­enc­ing de­clin­ing growth and the gov­ern­ment en­cour­ag­ing do­mes­tic con­sump­tion, China is newly vul­ner­a­ble to such a cam­paign. This would add new fric­tion to U.S.China re­la­tions, but it may soon be nec­es­sary.

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