Imagining the Catastrophic Consequences of a New War in Korea

27 09 2017

New War in Korea(Leonid Petrov for Daily Telegraph, 23 September 2017) The 1953 Armistice Agreement brought a sustainable halt to the Korean War, but has never ended it. Nor did it transform into a peace regime. During the last sixty four years the North and South Koreans live in the conditions of neither-war-nor-peace, which has certain advantages and downsides for both regimes separated by the Demilitarised Zone.

For the communist government in the North, the continuing war provides legitimacy and consolidates the masses around the Leader, who does not need to justify his power or explain the economic woes. For the export-oriented economy and steadily democratising society of South Korea, the continuing war against communism provides broad international sympathy, which is translated into the staunch security alliance and economic cooperation with the US. Any change (intentional or inadvertent) in the current balance of power or threat on the peninsula would lead to immediate re-adjustment or re-balancing of the equilibrium.

Military provocations of the North, does not matter how grave or audacious (i.e. 1968 guerrilla attack on the Blue House in Seoul, 1968 the USS Pueblo incident, 1976 Axe Murder Incident, 2002 naval clashes in the West Sea, the 2010 ROK corvette Cheonan sinking or Yeonpyeong Island shelling), have never led to the resumption of war. Similarly, peace and reconciliation-oriented initiatives (i.e. the 1972 Joint North-South Korean Communiqué, the 1991 Joint Declaration of South and North Korea on the Denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula, or the 2000 North–South Joint Declaration) inevitably end with a bitter disappointment. It seems that both Koreas are destined to live in the perpetual fear of war without really experiencing it.

Regional neighbours find this situation annoying but acceptable because the reunification of Korea can be potentially dangerous for some and advantageous for others. The Cold War mentality persists in Northeast Asia and dictates to its leaders to exercise caution in any decisions related to the Korean peninsula, which is known to be the regional balancer. After the WWII, Korea was divided by the great powers for a good reason – to separate the communist bloc from the capitalist democracies. Seventy years later, Korea still serves as a buffer zone which separates the economic interests of China and Russia-dominated Northeast Asia from the US-dominated Pacific Rim.

Should any of the actors start changing the equilibrium in Korea, the stabilising forces of reasoning and good judgement will inevitably return the situation to the original and steady balance of threat. Neither the UN intervention in Korea nor the Chinese counterattack in 1950 could help Koreans to reunify their country. Similarly, North Korea’s progress in building their nuclear and rocket deterrent (independently from what is promised by the alliance with China) will be counterbalanced by the return of US-owned nuclear weapons to South Korea or by the resumption of Seoul’s indigenous nuclear program, which was abandoned in the 1970s. When the balance of threat is restored, a temporary period of improved inter-Korean and DPRK-US relations will follow. Peaceful or hostile co-existence in Korea serves the interests of the ruling elites in both Koreas and benefits their foreign partners too.

Imagining the catastrophic consequences of a new war in Korea is pointless because everyone (in Pyongyang and Seoul, Washington and Moscow, Beijing and Tokyo) understands the risks associated with imminent nuclear retaliation. After the 2006 nuclear test North Korea is a fully-fledged nuclear power and what was previously possible (or at least hypothetically imaginable) with regards to a military action against Pyongyang is simply out of question these days. Whether Washington admits the reality or continues to produce the self-deceitful blandishments of a surgical strike against North Korea, a new hot war in Korea is not feasible simply because it serves no ones’ interest.

First, it would be suicidal for the aggressor and equally catastrophic for the victim of aggression. Second, when the nuclear dust settles the presumed victor would not know what to do with the trophy. The Kim dynasty would not survive another war for unification. Democratically elected government in Seoul would not know how to rule the third of its (newly acquired) population who is not familiar with the concept self-organisation. The cost of damaged physical infrastructure rebuilding will be dwarfed by the long-term expenditures required for maintaining social order in the conquered territories, re-education and lustration of the captured population. Survivors would prefer to seek refuge in a third country out of fear for revenge and reprisals. The exodus of Korean reunification is not something that regional neighbours are ready to welcome or absorb. It will take years and trillions of dollars before Korea can recover after the shock of violent unification.

Even a peaceful unification is likely to pose threat to Korea’s neighbours. The windfall of natural resources and economical labour force, if combined with advanced technologies and nationalism-driven investments, will help Korea outperform the industrial powerhouse of Japan and enter into open competition with China. A narrow but strategically located Russo-Korean border corridor will link the European markets and Siberian oil with Korean industrial producers. An underwater tunnel, once completed between Korean and Japan, will undermine the Sino-American duopoly and link the peninsula with the islands.

If the North and South are unified, the presence of US troops will be questioned not only in Korea but in Japan as well. US security alliance structures across the Pacific will crumble, followed by economic and technological withdrawal from the region. Even the new Cold War against China and Russia won’t help Washington to prevent the major rollback of American influence in Asia and the Pacific. Russia and China, as well, upon losing the common adversary will need to resume competition and power struggle for regional hegemony. Thus, the unification of Korea will open a new era of regional tensions, which nobody is really prepared to endure.

Korea today, however divided and problematic, is a capstone of regional peace and stability which must not be touched by political adventurists. The balance of Northeast Asian regional security architecture has been hinging on the 1953 Armistice Agreement, which proved to be sold and robust enough to survive many international conflicts. Even the acquisition of nuclear armaments by North Korea is not going to change the inter-Korean relations or Koreans’ relations with neighbours. However, if North Korea is deliberately targeted or attacked and destroyed, as has been threatened from the UN podium, that would trigger the processes far beyond of our imagination and control and inevitably lead to tectonic shifts in politics, security and economy of the region, which collectively produces and consumes approximately 19% of the global Gross Domestic Product. Surely, nobody will play with fire when so much is at stake.

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If China falls out with North Korea, then Russia will step in

27 04 2017

Pyongyang-MoscowKirsty Needham (Sydney Morning Herlad, Beijing, 24 APRIL 2017)

Chinese President Xi Jinping has told his US counterpart Donald Trump that Beijing opposes any action on the Korean Peninsula that goes against UN Security Council resolutions.

The phone call between the two leaders came as Chinese media reported on a rift between Beijing and Pyongyang, with North Korean state media criticising China as “dancing to the tune of the US”…

The US has repeatedly urged China to use its economic clout to put pressure on North Korea to abandon its nuclear program, warning that if China cannot produce a solution, the US may act alone.

Mr Xi told Mr Trump the international situation was changing rapidly and it was important the US and China maintain close contact, Chinese state media reported.

“Xi Jinping stressed that China is firmly against any behaviours that violate the UN Security Council’s resolution, at the same time it hopes all parties concerned maintain restraint, avoid doing anything intensifying the peninsula situation,” CCTV reported.

Asked about the North Korean media attack, a Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman said: “China’s position is consistent and clear and the relevant party should be very clear about that.”

Chinese experts are saying cutting oil would be the toughest sanction China could impose – it was last done in 2003 for just three days.

North Korea’s mining industry would be severely hit if China cut energy supply to the regime.

The front page of North Korea’s Rodong Sinmun newspaper on Monday praised the DPRK’s mining industry as self-reliant, exceeding capacity and “smashing the enemies’ sanctions”.

Kim Jong-un sent congratulations to a magnesite mine – a mineral that is exempt from UN sanctions. North Korea has the world’s second largest deposits of magnesite, a raw material listed as “critical” by the US and the European Union and a key component in smartphones and aircraft. China has the world’s largest deposits.

Leonid Petrov, an ANU fellow, says China is buying other rare earth minerals that are vital for high-technology products at half price from North Korea. He says if relations between Pyongyang and Beijing continue to deteriorate, Pyongyang could cut off sales to China and find new export markets elsewhere.

“If China falls out with North Korea, then Russia will step in. North Korea allows China and Russia to compete for concessions and ports and fishing,” he said.

See the full article here…





Chinese Pressure To Halt North Korean Nuclear Test Increases

7 02 2013

Tsar_Bomba(6 February 2013, NKnews.ORG) With North Korea threatening to go beyond a third nuclear test in response to what it sees as “hostile” sanctions imposed after the December rocket launch, Chinese pressure to halt a North Korean nuclear test appears to be mounting at considerable pace.

Building on high level talks held yesterday between Washington and Beijing, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying told reporters today that Beijing is “extremely concerned by the way things are going…We oppose any behavior which may exacerbate the situation and [urge] relevant sides to exercise restraint and earnestly work hard to maintain peace.”

Chunying’s comments came following an agreement  yesterday that the U.S. and China would “work together” to deal with the pending nuclear test, made public after U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry and China’s Foreign Minister talked by phone for the first time since Kerry took office.

On the subject of the call, State Department spokesperson Victoria Nuland said that both China and the U.S. agreed that North Korea should face “further consequences” if it violates UN Security Council resolutions with another test. Nuland also emphasized that the conversation between the two were “remarkably similar” to ones Kerry had in previous days with his Japanese and South Korean counterparts.

Beyond publicized Sino-American rhetoric, a senior Seoul diplomat told Yonhap News that he was aware that China was making its “own efforts” to persuade North Korea to cancel the test, although he did not elaborate on what those efforts were. The diplomat also said that China was taking the nuclear test “seriously.”

Outside of the diplomatic realm, an editorial in the English language Global Times today detailed Chinese displeasure even further, warning that Pyongyang would pay a “heavy price” for a third nuclear test and that China should “shatter any illusions Pyongyang may have” about not being punished.

While the editorial did note that Beijing would unlikely support the type of heavy sanctions that the U.S. and South Korea will likely demand in the event of a test, it underscored that China should support “reduced assistance” to North Korea and said that, “if Pyongyang gets tough with China, China should strike back hard.”

But despite all of the increasing rhetoric, North Korea expert Leonid Petrov today NK NEWS that in reality China is probably not that concerned about a further nuclear test.

Beijing policymakers know better than anyone how to benefit from Pyongyang’s insecurity and increasing international isolation. More sanctions against the DPRK means better deals for Chinese entrepreneurs operating in North Korea and increased dependency of Kim Jong-Un’s regime on China’s security assurance. A nuclear armed and unmanageable Pyongyang poses no threat to China but keeps its regional competitors anxiously overspending on their own national defense and security.

However, Chinese experts quoted yesterday in the Hong Kong daily Ming Pao have different thoughts. Shen Dingli, Executive Deputy Dean of the Institute of International Affairs at Fudan University, said that the planned nuclear test and rocket launch had already harmed China’s core interests, and that Pyongyang should be prepared to “bear the consequences” and “prepare itself for tougher international sanctions.”

In the same report Fan Jishe, a researcher on U.S. studies at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, went further and criticized Pyongyang for “embarrassing China” and “impeding [the progress of] Sino-U.S. relations.” He also criticized North Korea for implicitly blaming China for its “blind obedience” to Washington in the recent United Nations condemnation of the December rocket launch.

Amid the increasing pressure, Yonhap News suggests that the North Korean media’s decision to avoid citing Chinese media or report on Chinese news in recent weeks shows a growing spat between two countries once regarded as being as close as “lips and teeth”.  A screening of KCNA, Rodong Sinmun, KCTV, Radio Pyongyang and Chosun Central TV showed that following the passage of the Chinese supported UN Security Council Resolution on Jan. 23, there had been almost no mention of China in the North Korean media.

Tensions between China and North Korea have been on the increase recently, with public disagreements bubbling over in areas even outside of the nuclear realm. Less than two weeks ago Pyongyang reportedly hit out at Beijing for allowing reports to circulate that Kim Jong Un may have had plastic surgery to look like his grandfather Kim Il Sung.

Some suggest that China is the most important party in efforts both to dissuade North Korea from conducting a nuclear test, though others suggest Beijing’s influence is much more limited than leaders in the U.S. and South Korea like to think.

China has been traditionally uncooperative in pushing North Korea too hard, officially due to worries over fanning political and further economic instability in its neighbor.

To date, Pyongyang has conducted two nuclear tests, the first in 2006 and the second in 2009. Both times China ensured that sanctions on North Korea avoided inflicting too much economic damage.





«Не влезай – убъёт!» – Северная Корея шлёт миру очередной сигнал

9 06 2009

Две американские журналистки, Ына Ли и Лора Лин, которые были арестованы северокорейскими пограничниками 17 марта 2009 г. на китайско-северокорейской границе, предстали перед Центральным Судом КНДР. За «незаконный переход грарницы и шпионаж» двух молодых женщин приговорили к 12 годам лишения свободы и исправительных работ. Процесс проходил в закрытом режиме, решение обжалованию не подлежит. Чем вызван такой приговор и что власти КНДР хотели нам всем этим сказать?

За последний год власти КНДР проявляют в своих действиях удивительную последовательность. В своём стремлении вернуть страну к полной самоизоляции, на подобии той, которая существовала с 1960-х по начало 2000-х, Пхеньян готов пойти на любые шаги, в том числе самые жесткие. Жесткие по отношению к своему народу в первую очередь, да и инострацам и тоже. Если в 2005 г. страна впревые продемонстрировала чудеса открытости и либерализма, открыв свои границы для туристов из США (пусть на короткие 2 месяца в период фестиваля Ариран) и разрешив в 2007 г. южнокорейским туристам пересекать Демилитаризованную Зону на собственных автомобилях, то начиная с прошлого года начался обратный процесс. Зоны межкорейского сотрудничества стали закрываться, неблагонадёжным туристам стали нещадно отказывать в визе, а тех кто любыми путями стремился попасть в страну, стали арестовывать или убивать.  

11 июля 2008 г. северокорейский солдат застрелил пятидесятитрёхлетнюю южнокорейскую домохозяйку Пак Ван Чжа, которая якобы попыталась в 4 часа утра пронкнуть в «охраняемую зону», прилегающую к совместно-эксплуатируемому курорту Кымгансан на восточном побережье Кореи. Южная Корея немедленно приостановила въезд своих туристов в злополучный анклав до выяснения обстоятельств. Северная Корея от совместного выяснения обстоятельств откзалась, равно как и от извинений за произошедший инцидент. С тех пор курорт Кымгансан простаивает без туристов, а большая часть обслуживающего персонала (граждане Южной Кореи и Китая) высланы на родину…

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China’s N.Korea Influence on Wane

6 04 2009

The Australian (April 06, 2009)

kimyongiihu-jin-taoBEIJING: North Korea’s rocket launch showed China did not have as much influence on Kim Jong-il’s regime as some believed, despite being its main economic and political ally, analysts said. Leading up to the launch, China came under widespread pressure to use its influence on its communist neighbour not to go ahead.

North Korea had said it was launching a communications satellite, but the US, South Korea and Japan were concerned it was actually a long-range missile and said North Korea breached a UN Security Council resolution.

China undoubtedly has more influence with North Korea than anyone else, as evidenced by Mr Kim’s visit to Beijing last month and other high-level contacts between the two countries. But John Feffer of the US-based Institute for Policy Studies said the secretive regime in Pyongyang did not in any way feel beholden to the leadership in Beijing. “The historical ties and ideological similarities no longer exert any influence,” Mr Feffer said. “North Korea is dubious of ‘older brother’ pressure” and “does not want a subservient relationship”.

Leonid Petrov, an associate researcher at the Australian National University, said China would have made its views about the rocket launch known to the regime in Pyongyang. “But (China) does it very cautiously out of fear of losing its remaining leverage on North Korea,” he said.  China wanted to keep its influence for a time when it was really needed to protect its interests.

The UN Security Council was due to meet overnight to discuss the launch, but experts said China, a permanent member of the council, was likely to veto any move for sanctions on its ally.

Mr Petrov said proof of China’s weak hand with North Korea came when Pyongyang conducted its first and only atomic test in October 2006. A Chinese envoy was the first foreign official to meet Mr Kim in Pyongyang soon after the test, which lifted North Korea’s nuclear programs to the top of the global political agenda. North Korea defied Chinese calls not to go ahead with the test and Pyongyang informed Beijing of the test only 20 minutes in advance, Mr Petrov said.

Analysts say one way China can exert some influence on the impoverished nation is through the delivery of food and energy. North Korea’s economy, ravaged by poor economic planning and international sanctions, is largely kept afloat by China. Last year, Beijing increased its exports to North Korea by 46 per cent to more than $US2billion ($2.79 billion), according to Chinese figures, accounting for a large proportion of the nation’s food and energy supplies. These deliveries have in the past been used by China to put pressure on Pyongyang.

“China has applied pressure in the past to get North Korea to come to the negotiating table and take more flexible positions,” Mr Feffer said. China is reluctant to use this leverage too dramatically because it dreads triggering an influx of refugees across its 1400km-long porous border with North Korea. “I am not sure if China has any significant level of influence over North Korea,” said Jing-dong Yuan, director of the East Asia non-proliferation program at the US-based Monterey Institute of International Studies.

AFP