World View: Ancient Tensions Flare Between China and North Korea

This morning’s key headlines from GenerationalDynamics.com

  • Ancient tensions flare between China and North Korea
  • China’s relations deteriorate with both South and North Korea

Ancient tensions flare between China and North Korea

North Korea's child dictator Kim Jong-un (KCNA/AFP)
North Korea’s child dictator Kim Jong-un (KCNA/AFP)

As two ancient civilizations and neighbors, China and Korea have had many disagreements over the centuries, and tensions and wars have been the norm. However, during the last century, they have been united by their common enmity to Japan before World War II, and to the United States after World War II.

Now as both countries go deeper into a generational Crisis era, like most countries today, they are both becoming increasingly nationalistic and xenophobic. They both frequently continue to express their hatred of Japan and the United States, but increasingly this nationalism is causing them to turn on each other.

China has numerous concerns about North Korea, including these:

  • A nuclear explosion or nuclear accident near China’s border, similar to the accident at Ukraine’s Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant in 1986, could send massive amounts of radiation into China’s northeast.
  • A collapse in North Korea’s government could send hundreds of thousands of North Korean refugees across the Yalu River border with China into northeast China.
  • Even a conventional war between North and South Korea would put at risk over a million Chinese living in South Korea, including over 100,000 living Seoul, as well as thousands more living in North Korea.

Tensions between the two countries have been growing almost continually since 2006, when DPRK (North Korea, the “Democratic People’s Republic of Korea”) conducted its first nuclear bomb test. At that time, Chinese state media said that “China resolutely opposes DPRK’s nuclear test,” and quoted China’s Foreign Ministry as saying:

The DPRK ignored universal opposition of the international community and flagrantly conducted the nuclear test on Oct. 9. The Chinese government is resolutely opposed to it.

China’s Foreign Minister Li Zhaoxing talked over telephone with U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, and they agreed that North Korea’s nuclear tests must be firmly opposed. The United Nations Security Council held an emergency session to opposed the DPRK nuclear test.

Since then, countries around the world have strongly and vehemently opposed North Korea’s nuclear program. This has included China, which has applied economic sanctions to North Korea, most recently restricting coal imports from North Korea.

North Korea’s leaders say that they fear an invasion by the United States, and they’re known to believe that the only protection they have against such an invasion is the development of nuclear weapons. They believe that the West would not have invaded either Libya or Iraq if these countries hadn’t given up their nuclear weapons development.

On Wednesday, North Korean state media KCNA published a scathing attack on China:

A string of absurd and reckless remarks are now heard from big neighboring countries, perhaps frightened at the U.S. blackmail and war racket, every day only to render the acute situation of the Korean peninsula more strained.

The People’s Daily and the Global Times, widely known as media speaking for the official stand of the Chinese party and government, have recently carried commentaries asserting that the DPRK’s access to nukes poses a threat to the national interests of China. They shifted the blame for the deteriorated relations between the DPRK and China onto the DPRK and raised lame excuses for the base acts of dancing to the tune of the U.S.

Those commentaries claimed that the DPRK poses a threat to “the security in the northeastern region of China” by conducting nuclear tests less than 100 km away from its border with China. They even talked rubbish that the DPRK strains the situation in Northeast Asia and “offers the U.S. excuses for deploying more strategic assets” in the region.

Not content with such paradox, the commentaries asserted that to remain averse to the DPRK’s access to nukes is to preserve interests common to the U.S. and China, calling for slapping harsher sanctions against the DPRK in order to avert a war which would bring danger to China…

This is just a wanton violation of the independent and legitimate rights, dignity and supreme interests of the DPRK and, furthermore, constitutes an undisguised threat to an honest-minded neighboring country which has a long history and tradition of friendship…

Some theorists of China are spouting a load of nonsense that the DPRK’s access to nukes strains the situation in Northeast Asia and offers the U.S. an excuse for beefing up its strategic assets in the region. But the U.S. had activated its strategy for dominating Asia-Pacific long before the DPRK had access to nukes, and its primary target is just China.

China should acknowledge in an honest manner that the DPRK has just contributed to protecting peace and security of China, foiling the U.S. scheme for aggression by waging a hard fight in the frontline of the showdown with the U.S. for more than seven decades, and thank the DPRK for it…

One must clearly understand that the DPRK’s line of access to nukes for the existence and development of the country can neither be changed nor shaken and that the DPRK will never beg for the maintenance of friendship with China, risking its nuclear program which is as precious as its own life, no matter how valuable the friendship is…

China had better ponder over the grave consequences to be entailed by its reckless act of chopping down the pillar of the DPRK-China relations.

China’s state media responded directly:

The KCNA opinion piece contains no new substantive information, except mentioning the names of China, People’s Daily, and Global Times and expressing a stronger disgruntling. It did not mention China’s support for the United Nations sanctions against North Korea. Nor did it state Pyongyang’s next step to take. Overall, the editorial is nothing more than a hyper-aggressive piece completely filled with nationalistic passion.

Pyongyang obviously is grappling with some form of irrational logic over its nuclear program…

Beijing needs to make China’s standing and position very clear to Pyongyang, either on an official or grassroots level. It needs to address with Pyongyang its concerns and bottom line. It should also make Pyongyang aware that it will react in unprecedented fashion if Pyongyang conducts another nuclear test. Beijing should not hesitate in delivering this message, and there is certainly no need to debate this issue back and forth with Pyongyang.

Probably the most important sentence is: “[Beijing] should also make Pyongyang aware that it will react in unprecedented fashion if Pyongyang conducts another nuclear test.”

So we have the following situation:

  • North Korea considers its nuclear development program an existential requirement for its survival.
  • China says that it will “react in unprecedented fashion” in case of another nuclear test, whatever that means.
  • President Donald Trump says that the US will stop North Korea if China doesn’t, whatever that means.
  • If nothing is done, then North Korea will have the ability within two or three years to deliver a nuclear bomb to South Korea, China, Japan or the United States.

The Diplomat and Xinhua (9-Oct-2006) and Rodong Sinmun (North Korea) and Global Times (Beijing) and Times of India

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China’s relations deteriorate with both South and North Korea

China’s relations with North Korea have been deteriorating steadily with North Korea for over a decade, but China’s relations with South Korea have crashed almost overnight.

Just two years ago, there was a “brand new honeymoon” in relations between China and South Korea. President Park Geun-hye visited Beijing on September 3, 2015, during the commemoration of the 70th anniversary of the victory of the Chinese People’s War of Resistance against Japanese Aggression and the World Anti-Fascist War. Park was treated like visiting royalty, and even had a private lunch with China’s president Xi Jinping.

Then, in July 2016, Park announced her decision to deploy the THAAD (Terminal High Altitude Area Defense) system on South Korean soil. This was specifically a reaction to ballistic missile and nuclear threats from North Korea, but it infuriated China because THAAD’s powerful radar could also give early warning to the United States of a pre-emptive missile attack by China on the United States.

On February 28 of this year, news broke that the Lotte Group, a South Korean multinational conglomerate, had agreed to a land swap that would allow THAAD to be deployed on a piece of land previously owned by the company. This enraged the Chinese, who furiously started imposing economic sanctions on South Korea, particularly targeting Lotte Department Stores in China and South Korea with a boycott.

So now China is imposing economic boycotts on both North and South Korea, for different but related reasons. There’s another irony to the situation: Even though China has an economic boycott on South Korean products, China is increasing its imports of petroleum products from South Korea, with an increase of 2.6% over the previous year. The reason is because there’s a supply shortage of energy products in China, exacerbated by the fact that China is no longer importing coal from North Korea.

These issues are all very recent, but there are also deeply historical issues separating China and Korea. Since 2003, China has been developing a “Northeastern History Project” with the intention of proving that regions that have historically been recognized as belonging to Korea’s history and culture, on China’s northeastern border with Korea, are really all Chinese. In other words, just as China is confiscating regions historically belonging to Vietnam, Brunei and the Philippines in the South China Sea, China is also planning to confiscate regions historically belonging to Korea.

So there may be ephemeral ups and downs in the relations between China and each of the two Koreas, but these two civilizations have been around for millennia, and the norm is very tense relations, usually leading to war.

Deng Xiaoping, China’s leader in the 1980s, said, “Observe calmly; secure our position; cope with affairs calmly; hide our capacities and bide our time; be good at maintaining a low profile; and never claim leadership.”

This has been China’s strategy to implement the “China dream.” As I’ve been describing for years, China has been using a “salami-slicing strategy” of using military force to annex one portion after another of regions of the South China Sea historically belonging to Vietnam, Brunei, Malaysia, Indonesia, Taiwan and the Philippines. By doing so gradually, China’s hopes to prevent any counter-action. At the same time, China has been vastly building up its military, on land, in space and on the sea, but then pretending that they are a tiny power compared to the United States. In this way, they follow Deng’s advice, hoping to surprise the world with their military strength in the same way that Adolf Hitler surprised Britain.

Unfortunately, China keeps getting bitten by mosquitoes that send it off-course. China was enormously humiliated by the dramatic 2016 ruling by the United Nations Permanent Court of Arbitration (PCA) at The Hague declaring China’s claims and activities in the South China Sea to be illegal. This has not stopped China, of course, but it has exposed to the world the danger in allowing China’s salami-slicing strategy to continue.

Another mosquito is North Korea, which has put China’s entire foreign policy into a tailspin. Instead of being able to blame all the world’s problems on the United States, while it continues its vast military buildup in obscurity, China has to cope with the fact that North Korea is more a danger to China than it is to the United States. Even worse, the North Korean situation is directly responsible for the THAAD deployment in South Korea, which could never have occurred otherwise.

The fact is that China making enemies of one country after another. China has a few allies, such as Cambodia, Pakistan, Myanmar, and others, but China is surrounded by historic enemies, including Japan, Korea, Philippines, Vietnam, India, Russia, and many others. When China finally decides that it’s time to declare war on the United States, they will not be fighting the United States alone. The Diplomat and Yonhap News (Seoul) and SinoNK (3-Mar-2012) and The Atlantic (15-Apr-2013) and Council on Foreign Relations

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KEYS: Generational Dynamics, China, North Korea, South Korea, DPRK, Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, KCNA, Li Zhaoxing, Condoleezza Rice, Libya, Iraq, Yalu River, Park Geun-hye, Xi Jinping, Northeastern History Project, Terminal High Altitude Area Defense, THAAD, Lotte Group, War of Resistance against Japanese Aggression and the World Anti-Fascist War, Deng Xiaoping, Vietnam, Brunei, Malaysia, Indonesia, Taiwan, Philippines, United Nations Permanent Court of Arbitration, PCA
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