Why China and America Don’t See Eye to Eye on North Korea
Worse, the process of getting to a reunified Korea likely could be disastrous. Nothing in the DPRK’s history suggests a willingness to gently yield to foreign dictates. During the Cold War founding dictator Kim Il-sung ruthlessly eliminated both pro-Soviet and pro-China factions; Pyongyang consistently played Moscow and Beijing against each other. In the late 1990s the regime allowed a half million or more people to starve to death. Irrespective of China’s threats, Kim Jong-un might say no and continue in power, irrespective of the human cost. Then the PRC would have tossed away any influence that it has, providing an opening for Russia, which recently revived its ties with the North.
If China ended up breaking a recalcitrant Kim dynasty by sanctioning oil and food, the result could be extraordinary hardship and armed factional combat followed by mass refugee flows across the Yalu—multiply the desperation and number of Syrians heading to Europe. Toss in loose nuclear weapons and a possible South Korean/U.S. military push across the Demilitarized Zone to force reunification. The result would be a first-rate nightmare for Chinese President Xi Jinping.
So, explain to me again, Secretary Kerry, why China should ruin its geopolitical position to further Washington’s ends?
John Kerry’s mission to Beijing wasn’t hopeless, in theory, but if his private message was the same as his public pronouncements, then don’t hold your breath on winning Chinese support for taking decisive action against the DPRK. Next time he visits he should employ the art of persuasion—or stay home.
Doug Bandow is a Senior Fellow at the Cato Institute. A former Special Assistant to President Ronald Reagan, he is the author of Tripwire: Korea and U.S. Foreign Policy in a Changed World and co-author of The Korean Conundrum: America’s Troubled Relations with North and South Korea.
Image: Flickr/U.S. State Department.