In this article, we’re going to talk about how North Korea actually has nothing to do with North Korea—it has to do with China. North Korea has never been the problem, except by being a catalyst agent for the giant powder-keg which is the Far East.
Since the ill-fated Korean War of 1950, it hasn’t been a secret that China looks out for its little peninsula client state. North Korea, after all, began life in its current form under the rule of a man who looks a lot like the grandfather of China, Mao Zedong—a product of Communist creep during the Cold War. Kim Il-sung, that Korean founder, and Mao Zedong have a lot in common. They are Communist dictators, and uncountable numbers of people have been killed, maimed, and tortured under their reigns.
China’s role on the world stage has been one of globalism since before the concept existed. Historically, China has not only traded with all of its neighbours, but also kept most of the records and of course operated the notorious Silk Road, which traded all the way to just-about-but-not-quite Europe.
The Chinese were Communists, willing and able to protect fellow socialists, right up until it became obvious that the system didn’t actually work. Say what you want about the Chinese, but they’re not stupid. A death toll in the high double-digit millions and a failing economy, coupled with the USSR abruptly going extinct for a variety of reasons that I won’t discuss here managed to convince them to switch to a more liberal form of government, and begin to integrate with the rest of the world.
It’s through these connections, through the astounding ties of economics and self-interest rather than “globalism” (which is a separate, pseudo-mystical ideology) that President Trump has apparently become capable of convincing the Chinese to finally, after seventy years, do something about their increasingly insane south-eastern neighbour.
North Korea has already violated several international treaties, including both anti-proliferation treaties by testing nuclear devices, and outright peace treaties by firing missiles into the Sea of Japan and threatening Japanese fishing, which could easily be taken as an act of war.
So you’re probably wondering what I meant earlier, when I said that this fight has always been about the Chinese? I mean, if it’s North Korea aiming weapons at the Japanese, what crazy person sits there and tries to tell you that the whole Far-East actually rests on Chinese intentions?
Well, I mentioned the massive amount of geopolitical influence that the Chinese have always had, right? Not only trade-bonds (with North Korea) but also with past military aid. It wasn’t the ill-prepared and combat-unready formations of the North Korean army which nearly swept the Americans into that self-same Sea of Japan in the Korean War, after all.
It was the Chinese army’s intervention, coming flooding across the Yalu River in the form of hundreds of thousands of infantry, armour, and artillery which beat the Americans nearly to the point of leaving without even the peace terms they did manage after a bloody resurgence in 1951.
The point is, China is the real player in the region.
The UN isn’t really based on formal agreements, but a seat on the Security Council is supposedly intended to oblige the local regional “powers” to control things in their own backyard. In that sense, a lot of the world is back under what Kissinger might have referred to as a “multipolar world.” Most of the Security Council members are nuclear, have large standing armies and control the flow of trade in their section of the world.
The key to doing something about North Korea, therefore, rests on either making China do it, making China agree to whatever gets done by whomever decides to do it, or by at least securing their promise not to react.
Somehow, perhaps using their trade talks at Mar-a-Lago, President Trump has managed to convince the Chinese to refuse to trade with North Korea. Last night, according to RT, the Chinese refused to take a shipment of coal from North Korean shipping, sending them back to North Korea fully laden.
Instead, the Chinese are once again buying American coal, a practice they put on hold in 2014.
There’s an old maxim in geopolitics: “When goods don’t move across borders, soldiers will.” As North Korea becomes stranded and isolated even by its greatest and best neighbour—the Security Council member with the most influence in the region—one has to wonder how vulnerable the regime in Pyongyang must feel? Their repeated screaming about being ready for “war” would seem to indicate that they’re feeling pretty vulnerable indeed thanks very much.
I don’t particularly credit the strike against President Bashar al-Assad in Syria with any impact, here. I think the Chinese understand that the Americans, who continue to control global trade for the time being, can in fact use their massive trade deficit with China as leverage. Basically, America is paying for China right now with about three hundred billion American dollars annually—that’s leverage if anything is.
After all, while the Chinese are wealthy, they are also very corrupt and not developing domestically aside from a few hyper-industrialised cities which function like islands in a vast sea of poverty and pollution. That is to say, if the US suddenly withdrew from trading with China (though it’d be difficult) the country’s economy would pretty much collapse overnight. They could call in the substantial American national debts, but that’s not a long-term solution.
So how did President Trump manage this turnaround? The argument goes that Trump “showed teeth in negotiation” (as per Bill Mitchell, @mitchellvii) by bombing Syria’s airfield. The problem with that is that the strike changed absolutely nothing—it succeeded mostly in offending Russia and Iran into making some vague, shadowy threats about future aggression.
The other thing that we as residents of liberal democracies rarely think about is something like this: why would the Chinese care about a Syrian airfield or dead Muslims? The Chinese don’t really have a Muslim population, and even if they did, they wouldn’t bother listening to them—they don’t even listen to their own Han Chinese indigenous populations.
While a stunt like that might’ve worked, too, on a non-nuclear nation, China knows perfectly well it controls military might in the area despite those American carrier groups wandering around in the Pacific. There’s a certain immunity from hostile action that a nice big clutch of ICBMs carries with it.
No, I figure the only way that President Trump could get the Chinese moving on his North Korea problem was a mix of bravado over trade, and appeals to the Chinese (who Stratfor reports have been trying to establish themselves as a military power in the region) to take some responsibility for their back yard.
As that coal embargo shows, this seems to have worked. What remains to be seen is just how much freedom of action the Americans will be allowed. At last check, the Russians had also deployed a small fleet to waters around North Korea, but since I can’t find any of the sources referencing that anymore, it may be fictitious.
World War III, then, depends on just what the Chinese are okay with the Americans doing to the North Koreans, and whether or not North Korea gives President Trump a reason to move on them.
That’s where the speculation part of this article comes up. The North Koreans will rapidly go broke and begin to starve without Chinese trade. The North Koreans are basically subsistence farmers, and they were below optimal nutritional intake levels as a population even with Chinese money for their coal.
They’re going to have to give up something to avoid a slow, ugly death—it’s in situations like those where long-suffering populations tend to revolt. That, or they do the desperate thing, but that just isn’t likely. The Pyongyang regime doesn’t seem totally rational, but they have to know that a single shot fired—whether its their unproven rocket tech, or a torpedo aimed at an American ship—gives everyone in the region an excuse to bomb the regime out of existence.
The North Koreans were already firmly in the “unlikely to do well” column, but now without Chinese support, their chances downgrade to “what were you thinking?”