1. Aaron Miller

    China will put its foot down. North Korea will shoot China’s foot.

    North Korea is a useful distraction. If they ever truly act, China won’t be happy. Then North Korea will overreact to China’s punishment.

    That’s one possibility, anyway.

  2. Devereaux

    I do not believe that NK can exist in any kind of capitalist system. They actually had markets spontaneously bloom in Chongjig. The system was too poor to do anything about it as people were literally starving, eating grass and tree bark. With the market, suddenly people not only were able to eat, but for the first time in their lives saw coloured cloth. The NK regime destroyed any market activity by changing the money, making the old money worthless. ALL smuggling (trading) ceased as the outside vendors no longer trusted the currency.

    This is the inherent problem with NK. They have nothing of value to trade, no wish to produce anything other than military might, and no currency that can be trusted. Only when the regime changes its basic attitude will there be any progress.

    China’s regime saw that the future needed better economics, and allowed capitalism to creep in. NK has no such aspirations, as they just don’t care.

  3. Brian Clendinen

    China if it wants to increase it long term power base,  will need to bite the bullet now and either let the nation fall and send peace keepers in and have a huge humanitarian mission on its hands, or let South Korea take over and have U.S. troops on its borders.

    Assuming I did not care about the North Koreans (which I do), long term Realpolitik says as an American, China needs to stay the course because it basically grantees the third largest economy in the world (Japan) changes its constitution and creates a large professional technologically advance armed force.  This also forces a much more closer alliance with other Pacific power who also have more military because of the North Korean threat, which over the long term helps check Chinas growing military power.

    So if China over the long term really wants to be the only player in Asia militarily they need to get ride of the North Korean problem. All North Korea is doing is forcing countries that can balance out Chinas power to go that route they might not otherwise do if North Korea was not a treat.

  4. Frederick Key

    Fairly amazing that NK has lasted this long, but I suspect it may not have much longer to go. As many commentators have observed, China seems to be in a terrible dilemma; either support the lunatics and watch them cause a catastrophe through belligerence, or pull support, have a regime collapse, and enjoy a zillion refugees pouring over the border.

    Perhaps they, too, are hoping the thing will implode, despite all the problems that will follow, but don’t dare do anything overt. You can’t deal with the armed crazy person.

  5. Paul A. Rahe

    I am not sure that China is acting as a moderating force. Thus far, when push comes to shove, it has backed North Korea. The latter is a pawn that the former can play. If ever the time comes, however, when the latest Kim’s antics do not serve the purposes of the Chinese, then things will get interesting….

  6. James Lileks

    The implosion wouldn’t be China’s problem if they kept the refugees from streaming into the country. You can imagine what that would take, and you can probably imagine them doing it. 

    I’m not even sure what “implosion” looks like. You have a thin crust of elites who run a Potemkin city and a gulag.  It’s not like they’re going to see mass starvation as a reason to cut back on the caviar. A million people dying doesn’t hurt the tax base.

  7. Ross C

    Something I know nothing about….good, let me opine.

    I have always predicted that the Communist party in China would not be able to pacify their population as they modernize.  I would expect before the expiration of the current Kim Il, the communist will be out and Korea will be pretty much cut loose.

  8. Neolibertarian

    Garrett Petersen

    I think we all know why China is different than it was a half century ago, and it has everything to do with capitalism. 

    Maybe to better understand China, we might do well to be more precise in our terms.  The correct term here is economic corporatism. China is different than it was a half century ago, and it has everything to do with corporatism. 

    Which, it turns out, is a cornerstone of fascism:

    1. Leadership Principle  2. Statism or Statolatry  3. Militarism  4. Imperialism  5. Corporatism  6. Anti-Capitalist  7. Anti-Communist  8. Anti-Egalitarianism 

    Corporatism has made the Chinese princelings immensely rich, which in turn has enriched the military and the bureaucracy. We get a glimpse of this system in cases such as the recent downfall of Bo Xilai.

    The point is, this has little to do with capitalism; and that’s not how capitalism works.

    I realize some really smart people tell us the PRK acts independently of Chinese authority, or at least somewhat independently. But the history is, when China wants a USS Pueblo captured (1968), an EC-121 shot down (1969), a civilian airliner KAL 007 shot down (1983), Pyongyang accepts the assignment.

  9. Neolibertarian

    Beijing has many times used the PRK in ways that test the new president of the United States…from Johnson to Reagan. Clinton and Bush certainly had their hands full with Pyongyang. Barack Obama was confronted with the sinking of the ROKS Cheonan.

    China uses the PRK provocations to gage its own interests in relation to Washington’s.

    Ever since the Obama administration painstakingly ignored the Cheonan incident, China has felt it has a free hand with the Senkaku Islands, for instance.

    It does have a free hand, obviously.

    I’m afraid a third test might be benefiting another nation besides China.   Iranian scientists have been present at the two previous tests.

    They tell me the physics of creating a nuclear bomb is relatively simple. The tricky part (and the classified part) is in the engineering. This is why testing is key. It tells you the efficiency of your engineering.

    There was a theory for a while that South Africa and Israel had a joint secret nuclear project in the early 70s. But the problem is, you HAVE to test. And when you test, it’s no longer secret. Johannesburg and Tel Aviv might have drawn straws. South Africa lost.

  10. Joan of Ark La Tex

    China only has one consistent primary interest – prolong and enhance the power of the CCP. Everything else is instrumental, including some shades of regulated capitalism. 

    Whatever the motivation maybe – distraction from their own internal or external tension ?  increasing their dominance in the region as the Big Brother status ? China cannot be relied upon as a moderating force. 

  11. Stephen Hall

    Neolibertarian has basically nailed it. Let me add a few more cents worth. Chiang Kai-Shek has posthumously won the Chinese civil war. Chiang wanted a corporatist Chinese state; authoritarian political rule, a heavily censored media, state direction of a mercantilist economy alongside private ownership of industry by crony capitalists, a foreign policy driven by real and imagined historical grievances against foreign ‘imperialists’, and a continuation of China’s historical role of having puppets and tributaries but not allies. The CCP has turned into Chiang Kai-Shek’s Kuo Min Tang (while the KMT on Taiwan has turned into a centre-right nationalist party). The CCP gangsters who run China are using North Korea in a way consistent with this tradition; it is a useful pawn in an Asian and global chess game to create the impression of China’s indispensibility and as a bargaining chip to advance China’s interests in other areas.

  12. Rob Long
    Paul A. Rahe: I am not sure that China is acting as a moderating force. Thus far, when push comes to shove, it has backed North Korea. The latter is a pawn that the former can play. If ever the time comes, however, when the latest Kim’s antics do not serve the purposes of the Chinese, then things will get interesting…. · 4 hours ago

    I agree — but we may be seeing the first signs of this now.  Nork’s nuclear ambitions just make Japan all the more interested in renewing their military build-up, which is a perfectly legitimate response.  But it bothers the Chinese, for a lot of reasons.  I suspect this is what the Norks are really up to: forcing more aid from China in exchange for cooling the belligerence.  It’s actually quite smart, I think.  They don’t have many cards to play, but they’re playing them — and us — pretty adroitly.

  13. outstripp

    I am writing this a few miles from North Korea, which makes me an expert. I also have been watching Chinese TV recently, which makes me a double expert. The Chinese are obsessed with Japan. Nearly every news broadcast begins with ten minutes of Japanese quasi-military actions and the reactions of the brave People’s Army Navy (sic). Rob is correct. The worst nightmare for Chinese planners is the remilitarization of Japan. The Norks are angling for bribes to keep a lid on their actions. The trick is to be provocative without going too far. You can’t reach the top in North Korea without being diabolically clever. Same is true for China, but the Chinese have bigger fish to fry and probably just want to maintain the status quo.

  14. Neolibertarian


    The worst nightmare for Chinese planners is the remilitarization of Japan. The Norks are angling for bribes to keep a lid on their actions. The trick is to be provocative without going too far. 

    Yabut, “too far” is a value judgement.

    How far is “too far” used to be defined by the First Estate.

    Hell, even Saddam Hussein first checked with April Glaspie before he invaded Kuwait. Saddam and April misunderstood each other, sure, but the fact that he felt compelled to ask first says volumes about America’s position, power and influence across the globe.

    Or, at least, that was the way it was before we elected Noam Chomsky President.

    Let’s say Japan began remilitarizing. China could make the case that it was impelled to invade. Say it invades, but just the Ryukyu Islands which don’t happen to have stationed US troops.

    What could we expect from the Obama Administration?


    What would Noam Chomsky do?

  15. Devereaux

    Neolib – I am more interested in what YOU think we should do. America has a long and brightly lit history of dumping allies whenever it feels like doing so. Makes having a treaty with us rather dicey.

  16. Neolibertarian

    You remember what Kissinger stated way back in the 1960s, obviously. “It may be dangerous to be America’s enemy, but to be America’s friend is fatal.”

    Your point is not lost on the CCP–as already mentioned, they have for decades tested newly elected presidents, usually (but not always) as early-on in his first term as possible. As you remember, the Chinese tested GW Bush in first April of his first term with the forced landing of an EP-3 Orion spy plane.

    Jiang Zemin obviously wanted to know who China would be facing for the next 4-8 years. What’s the the new president about? How far will he go? How does his administration react to crisis?

    Zemin knew American interests abroad often change after an election. Our friends who get burned often have fallen into believing America will be the same tomorrow as it was yesterday.

    China grasps better than most that America’s commitments tend to ebb and flow–you see, Beijing still reveres Richard Nixon as a hero. Yet they watched the once popular Nixon become universally loathed here; most all of his policies discredited.

    This illustrates plainly the vagaries of democracy.

  17. Neolibertarian

    I can’t imagine why you’d be interested in what I think we should do, but I’m willing to try answer you. You’ll see that I’m so poor at this sort of thing, you’ll soon be sorry you asked.

    First of all, you mustn’t fail the tests. When North Korea sinks a South Korean destroyer, you MUST assume China ordered the attack until you find evidence to the contrary–and no matter who the agent provocateur turns out to be, you must understand all the world is watching what you do.

    You have to automatically understand that you’re being tested, why you’re being tested, and be prepared for it.

    Increasing sanctions is the easy answer, and it’s a trap. When you level sanctions, you’ve thrown away your initiative–in other words, what do you do next? What happens if the sanctions don’t bring about any positive result? What happens when they persist year after year? Sometimes sanctions backfire, as they certainly did in the case of Iraq. What then? Are you going to keep them in place for over 50 years like we’ve done with Cuba?

  18. Neolibertarian

    Or maybe instead, you send the USS Lincoln Carrier Group into the Sea of Japan and confront the PRK Navy? Exchange fire? What if the PRK navy is stationed in the Yellow Sea? What then? Follow them all the way into Chinese territorial waters?

  19. Neolibertarian

    1) Discover what the provocateur nation is seeking.

    This isn’t progressive psychobabel. You can’t engage a foe or competitor successfully without first understanding what he wants.

    In the case of China, this is complex but not that hard to understand. Their economy is always on the cusp of failing (despite what NPR and Barack Obama might try to tell you). If you have doubts, you need look no farther than their exploding Ghost Cities.

    Since Tiananmen Square, the CCP knows the Chinese economy must continue to grow 7-10% a year or they’re in big trouble with the “masses.”

    When the economy begins slowing, nationalism and nationalist fervor is the only antidote to unrest, of course.

    The liberals accused the Dubya’s administration of this very thing when it came to invading Afghanistan and Iraq. They did so because Progressives think not in terms of reality, but in terms of the narratives. They believe you can make up narratives to suit your purposes. He was accused of cynically using and making up crises out of 9/11 to fan the flames of nationalism and quell opposition.

  20. Neolibertarian

    And we witnessed the breathtaking results. For once, since the dismal days of Vietnam, we saw an America united. That was even the catch phrase of the day: “America Remembers,” and “America United.” The Dubya’s approval ratings actually shot up above 91% for a historically long time (for comparison, FDR barely broke 85% approvals after Pearl Harbor, and those highs didn’t last). On the eve of OIF, fully 2/3rds of Americans were in favor of the invasion of Iraq.

    That’s what the CCP is looking for in provocations with Japan, South Korea, Taiwan, and the United States. They need sinister bogeymen in order to whip up nationalist fervor. This is especially easily accomplished with Japan, of course. “The Rape of Nanking” never really disappeared from their consciousness, nor would we expect it to. Japan as bogeyman has the added advantage of representing the next largest economy, and a direct competitor to Chinese commerce.

    That’s the narrative they’re desperately attempting to create.

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