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Generational Dynamics Web Log for 15-Dec-2019
15-Dec-19 World View -- US envoy visits S. Korea to prepare for North Korea 12/31 threat

Web Log - December, 2019

15-Dec-19 World View -- US envoy visits S. Korea to prepare for North Korea 12/31 threat

China's confused response to the North Korean threat

by John J. Xenakis

This morning's key headlines from

North Korea announces new 'crucial test' to bolster its 'nuclear deterrent'

A public TV screen Monday in Tokyo shows North Korea's Sohae long-range rocket launch site (AP)
A public TV screen Monday in Tokyo shows North Korea's Sohae long-range rocket launch site (AP)

North Korea on Saturday announced that it conducted another "crucial test" which "will be applied to further bolstering up the reliable strategic nuclear deterrent of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea." This was the second test in the space of a week. The North Koreans didn't announce the nature of the tests, but it's believed that they were tests of an advanced rocket engine of a type that can be used in ballistic missiles.

North Korea has in recent weeks become increasingly belligerent, conducting a series of short-range missile tests and using increasingly belligerent language. The North Koreans have set a deadline of the end of the year for the US to agree to the removal of some or all of the US or UN sanctions unilaterally, without any serious denuclearization steps by the North Koreans.

Not surprisingly, North Korea's rhetoric toward Japan has been especially hostile. Japan's prime minister Shinzo Abe responded to a recent missile test by saying, "North Korea’s repeated launches of ballistic missiles are a serious defiance to not only our country but also the international community." North Korea's state media responded by denouncing Japan's prime minister Abe as "an underwit," "the most stupid man ever known in history," and a "perfect imbecile."

On the other hand, Donald Trump last week once again referred to Kim Jong-un as "rocket man," saying that "he likes sending rockets up," but "in the meantime, we still have peace." A North Korean official said, "This naturally indicates that Trump is an old man bereft of patience. As he is such a heedless and erratic old man, the time when we can not but call him a 'dotard' again may come."

US envoy Stephen Biegun arrives in South Korea on Sunday

U.S. special envoy for North Korea Stephen Biegun will arrive in Seoul on Sunday to meet with South Korean officials and devise a joint US-South Korea strategy for responding to North Korea's end of year threat.

For the past two years, since the talks between North Korea's child dictator Kim Jong-un and Donald Trump began with a "charm offensive," North Korea has not tested any nuclear weapons or long-range ballistic missiles. However, it has made numerous tests of things like short-range missiles, which are a threat to South Korea and Japan.

North Korea originally promised that it would denuclearize, in return for agreement by the US to end the UN and US sanctions. Kim Jong-un has used a variety of artifices to trick Trump into removing the sanctions unilaterally, but has not succeeded. These tricks worked with president George Bush in 2008, which was a major humiliation to the US. But Trump has refused to fall for them.

Now, North Korea has set a deadline of the end of this year for the sanctions to be lifted. After two years of charm offensive, but being unable to get the sanctions lifted, the North Koreans now say that they have "nothing to lose" in taking "a new path." They have not said what the new path is, but it's believed that it would be a resumption of nuclear weapon and ballistic missile tests.

It seems likely that the "new path" will be devised to take advantage of scheduled elections in America and South Korea, in November and April respectively, to apply maximum political pressure on Donald Trump and South Korean President Moon Jae-in. For example, the North Koreans might simply threaten to begin nuclear weapons testing again unless some or all of the sanctions are lifted.

According to reports, US envoy Stephen Biegun will discuss with South Korean officials a strategy to get the US-North Korea talks started again, in order to avoid a new regional crisis. According to one South Korean official, "In any case, Biegun would try to give an impression that they won’t be manipulated by the North Koreans, while making clear that they want to keep talking."

China's confused response to the North Korean threat

Normally, the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) takes a highly contemptuous anti-American position on almost any subject, but that's not the case with the current situation. The Chinese are as unhappy with the North Koreans as they are with the Americans.

For centuries, Korea has had a vassal or tributary relationship with China. This means that Korea paid China a great deal of money, usually gold and slaves, in return for guarantees of defense from outsiders (i.e., Japan). Although China does not directly govern the vassal, China expects the vassal to do as it's told, and will not hesitate to punish a vassal that disobeys.

North Korea today pays tribute to China not in the form of gold and slaves, but in the form of massive amounts of coal and "workers," both of which are also used to provide financial aid to North Korea.

Relations between China and North Korea took a hostile turn in October 2006, when North Korea began testing nuclear weapons. The vassal North Korea did not do as it was told, and China punished its vassal by agreeing to United Nations sanctions targeting North Korea.

However, China cannot punish North Korea too severely. If China tries to starve North Korea, the result could be a massive refugee flow from North Korea, across the Yalu River, into northeast China, which would be an economic disaster for China.

The reason that China does not want North Korea testing nuclear weapons is simply because such tests provide the US with an excuse to increase its military presence in the area.

The Chinese were particularly infuriated in 2016 when North Korean tests provoked South Korea to reverse a previous policy and agree to deploy the Terminal High Altitude Air Defense (THAAD), supplied by the United States military, to protect itself from North Korean missile attacks. The THAAD does not do a very good job at protecting South Korea from North Korean short-range missiles. But what the THAAD system does, through its sophisticated long-range "over the horizon" radar capabilities, is provide early warning to the American military of a missile attack from China.

What China would like is for America to reduce its military presence in the region, which a North Korean missile test would certainly make less likely. Therefore, the Chinese are very unhappy with North Korea's threats.

What the Chinese say they would like is for the North Koreans, the South Koreans and the US to talk, and for everything to settle down, so that American forces can start withdrawing from the region. That's a nice Chinese dream, but it's very unlikely to occur.

John Xenakis is author of: "World View: War Between China and Japan: Why America Must Be Prepared" (Generational Theory Book Series, Book 2), June 2019, Paperback: 331 pages, with over 200 source references, $13.99


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