The Role of China on North Korea
In 1950 Mao Zedong made a historic decision for his country and the world that it was more important to fight the Americans in Korea than to try to retake Taiwan, ruled by Kuomintang troops. This choice and the direct confrontation between Chinese and American troops in Korea determined the start of the Cold War. For decades, many Chinese people puzzled over the decision: Why defend North Korea, a foreign country, and not engage in the patriotic task of reunifying the nation by taking control of Taiwan? The reasons were many: first of all there was the technical difficulty of landing in Taiwan, defended by the United States; furthermore, the problem of geographical proximity was not negligible: if the Americans had defeated North Korea their troops would have settled a short distance from the border with China, divided only by the few meters wide of the Yalu River; better therefore that these remained located in Taiwan, separated from the mainland by miles of sea.
According to a2zgov, the central issue, however, was that in 1950 the mutually open relations between Mao and the United States in the 1940s were a distant memory. Mao was now considered a communist like any other and in fact had to approach Moscow, with which he had had difficult relations. To prove his willingness he started the war in Korea. It was a decisive step that brought China into the Communist bloc and marked the confrontation between East and West for the next fifty years. The situation was only partially reversed in 1972, when Richard Nixon visited Beijing and in fact forged ties with China in an anti-Soviet function.
If fifty years ago North Korea was the reason for the removal of China from the United States, now it is the cause of their rapprochement. Both Washington and Beijing are concerned about Pyongyang’s nuclear program, but equally fear the possibility of a North Korean collapse. Both powers essentially believe that the real threat to the stability of the region is not so much the atomic threat, which may never be put into practice, but the more concrete possibility of the end of North Korea. This would imply a huge tension in South Korea, which would be forced to reunite with the North and to worry about its 22 million desperate people, but also in China and Japan as neighboring countries, and in the United States as an interested party with 40,000 soldiers in Korea.. Nobody wants to pay this bill,
In this situation, any hasty move, such as war, could be counterproductive, bringing only costs and no benefits. We have already said that North Korea does not have strategic resources, like Iraq, capable of having a strong impact on the world economy, nor does it act like Afghanistan, which finances and organizes terrorist acts that threaten life. of the Western world. There is no oil to be conquered nor is there a radical guerrilla to annihilate. The North Korean threat doesn’t cross borders, and it’s more like the blackmail you see in movies, where a mad scientist asks for a billion dollars to keep Tokyo from blowing up. The scientist’s goal is clearly to have his billion dollars, not to destroy Tokyo, while Al Qaeda in Afghanistan would use that billion dollars to destroy Tokyo or New York. However, something needs to be done against Pyongyang and, despite its waning influence, Beijing still has some leverage to use with North Korea. China provides the most substantial economic aid and, moreover, most of those coming from other countries pass through Beijing; it would therefore be able to stop, completely or in part, these rescues. It already hosts hundreds of thousands of North Korean refugees and could allow even larger numbers to reach embassies in Beijing or even open its borders completely, which would wreck North Korea and accelerate its fall. China will never use these tools,
There is also another aspect to consider. The agreement between the United States and China on the North Korean question and the fact that both Washington and Beijing are convinced that Pyongyang must solve its problems through dialogue with Seoul strengthens the cooperation relationship between the two powers inaugurated after the terrorist attack of 11 September 2001. Observed Michael D. Swaine (The turnaround in US-China relations and the Taiwan issue, Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, 2002): “Washington’s utterly negative reaction to Chen Shui-Bian’s controversial claims of August 3, 2002 – on the need to prepare the ground for a national referendum on the condition of Taiwan and on the separation of two states – provided a case in point of Washington’s new priorities. ”
First the war on terrorism and now the commitment, which necessarily takes the form of a long term, to contain North Korea, have created a strong geopolitical link between the United States and China. And geopolitics is much stronger than ideology, as Nixon’s visit to China in 1972 testified. By keeping North Korea in check, China will save South Korea and help Japan, whose economic situation is not rosy, and it would get worse if it panicked as a result of North Korea’s belligerent attitudes. It will also help the United States, whose economy is tied to Japan’s fortunes in Asia. On the other hand, China will need US help to contain North Korea, as Pyongyang wishes to involve America for its political and economic influence. The strategic link between China and the United States could last until the reunification of Korea. In other words, China and the US will need each other for at least the next thirty years.
One might think that this link could have important repercussions also within China, allowing it not to embark on the path of political reform and respect for human rights, ignoring the requests of the USA in this regard. But this is not the case: it will not slow down the pace of political reforms in China, since they are in no way dependent on US pressure. The Chinese leadership deems these reforms necessary and will carry them out regardless of foreign intervention. Indeed, in a certain sense, the situation in North Korea demonstrates the goodness of the Chinese choice and the dangers of absolute and uncontrolled power. Leadership of the country in China is not in the hands of a capricious dictator nor is it fiercely contested by factions with different purposes.