By Vincent J. Truglia
The Korean peninsula is obviously at a flashpoint, which could easily have been avoided if China had intervened earlier. The problem is that a nuclear North Korea is not a danger to China.
If North Korea ever appeared to be a direct threat to China, China would simply cut off all exports. The North Korean economy would quickly collapse, with regime change following almost instantly. Given China’s clout in the region, if the Chinese government ever let it be known to senior military officers in North Korea, that China would prefer regime change, many military leaders would likely follow China’s advice, and overthrow the Kim regime. Those military leaders would simply be protecting not only their own lives, but also the lives of their close family members.
It is to China’s advantage for the US to face an unpredictable rogue regime armed with nuclear weapons capable of hitting the US mainland. There are a number of reasons for this, which go far beyond the Korean peninsula:
- Since China doubts US military resolve, a demonstration that even a small, unimportant country like North Korea could beat the US, would raise China’s relative role in the world.
- A lack of military resolve by the US regarding the Kim regime would pave the way for a military takeover of Taiwan. After all, if the US wouldn’t stop NK ICBMs from being able to reach the US, why would the US risk using military force to protect Taiwan? In fact, why would the US use military force against any powerful rogue states, never mind risking war with China itself?
- China needs a peaceful Middle East because of its dependence on the region for oil and gas. As such, a military standoff between Saudi Arabia and Iran are beneficial to China. The last thing China wants is an all-out Mideast war. If the US won’t use its military might to stop North Korea, then China could rest assured the paper tiger US, even in extremis, would not stop Iran from obtaining nuclear weapons. Saudi Arabia would soon follow suit with building a nuclear arsenal. A nuclear-armed Iran and a nuclear-armed Saudi Arabia are less likely to go to war, keeping oil and gas flowing uninterrupted to China.
- Of course, China would not want a nuclear-armed Japan and/or South Korea. However, given that Japan and South Korea are now advanced economies, it is unlikely either would use nuclear weapons against China. Wealth has a way of pacifying countries. It’s a risk China could live with.
Since China doesn’t see a strategic advantage to settling the North Korean issue, any attempt by China to delay military intervention by the US is in line with China’s own strategic needs regarding Taiwan and the Middle East. Any delays in resolving the crisis implies a greater likelihood that North Korea will maintain, and even grow its arsenal of nuclear-armed ICBMs aimed at the US mainland.
Since China knows that any use of military force by the US against North Korea would involve a large number of civilian casualties on all sides, China is betting that the risk to civilians will stop the US from using military force against North Korea.
As always, Clear and Candid.