Monday, May 30, 2005

As long as we're on this topic . . .

Maybe I should first state that I'm no Sinophobe. I rather admire the Chinese. When I discuss Northeast Asia and China's intentions here, I'm thinking as a historian who notes -- like Robert Kagan -- that the rise of a great power usually sparks wars that reshape the international configuration of power. China appears to be a rising great power, so we have to think about the possible implications.

In returning to this issue, I revisited an old post (January 14) by the Marmot (aka Robert Koehler) and re-read something that Charles Pritchard speculated about:

"He also said that while most people expected the two Koreas to reunify if the North collapsed, it was more likely North Korea would be absorbed by China. Pritchard said that since North Korea already depends on China for much of its fuel and life necessities, the process of absorption could be quite smooth and natural."

I posted a comment there (to which I've now added a few bracketed remarks):

"I’ll bet that the Chinese government has contingency plans that elaborate how China would absorb North Korea if it felt that it needed to (such as keeping the U.S. at a geographical distance).

I doubt that China would simply invade. It might be 'asked' by a collapsing North Korea to 'assist' in stabilizing the country, then never leave. Something like the Syrians in Lebanon. [Oops. That analogy doesn't work anymore.] It could ensure its control long term in some of the ways noted — such as offering jobs in other parts of China to North Koreans and moving Han Chinese into North Korean territory (something that I pointed out to the students in my history course last semester).

The initial cost even of entering because 'requested' would be high in terms of international relations, but that would pass fairly soon. Longer term would be the tensions here in Northeast Asia. South Koreans would be furious, Russia would be extremely nervous about [possibly] losing some of its own territory, and Japan would worry about China's military dominance in the region (which they're already worrying about anyway).

The United States, of course, would object, but what they would do depends, in part, on relations with South Korea.

I suggest [but don't expect to be listened to] that it would be prudent for South Korea, Japan, and Russia to reach a mutual understanding now on a unified reaction if such a situation should arise in the future, and the understanding should be just vocal enough for China to 'overhear' it soon without loss of face.

Continuing a healthy alliance with the United States would probably also be in South Korea's interests, it seems to me (though the Koreans would always have to worry about being asked to send troops to show its commitment to the Korean-American alliance).

One advantage of the Sunshine Policy was that it held out the possibility of making North Korea dependent upon the South, and any lessening of the North's dependence upon China would be better for the Korean peninsula."

The irrepressible Jodi posed some questions, partly to me, that I didn't notice until re-visiting the Marmot's post:

"I agree with everything you said, Jeffery.

These are not my original ideas as they've been posed to me before when the topic has come up but it's worth asking to this crowd here: would China really want a million starved, depressed, brainwashed people on its hands with a dissolved NK rule? (Okay, so maybe they would take the brainwashed but what about the others?)

Secondly, how realistic is this? Do you really think South Korea and the USA would just let China simply absorb North Korea without putting up a fight? Even though the South seems to want to delay any reunification (and for good reason in my opinion), if the circumstances drove a sudden reunification, I doubt it SK would just let China take over. Heads would surely roll . . .

And thirdly, if the North collapsed, wouldn't China be more concerned about border issues as there are some areas which are sort of gray-zone in that regards?

I don't see an NK collapse being so smooth for any side: China, South Korea, Russia or Japan. In fact, should such an event happen, there most likely will be casaulties . . ."

I apologize to Jodi for not responding earlier. I missed her comment somehow. I'm no expert, so anything I say should be taken with Jimmy Buffet's "lost shaker of salt," but here goes.

On the first question . . . no, China wouldn't want millions of North Koreans on its hands, but great powers sometimes accept big things that they don't want in order to get even bigger things that they do want. What 'bigger' things might China want? Perhaps another seaport, the better to project its power in Northeast Asia. Perhaps the opportunity to bring the Korean peninsula more fully under its influence, which would be a return to its 19th-century power games in Korea before Japan -- with its enhanced, modernized military -- assumed control.

On the second question . . . South Korea wouldn't like it, not at all. Nor would the USA. But there are lots of things that nations don't like that they can't easily alter. China is a nuclear power, and that would make South Korea and the US think twice about pursuing a military response. Moreover, I'm assuming that China would have been 'invited' in by the North Koreans, which would give its presence there the fig leaf of legitimacy.

On the third question . . . if China occupies North Korea, then settling border issues to its own advantage would be easily done. If necessary, this might even be the price for a withdrawal -- along with a seaport in the northeast.

On the fourth point (or is it part of the third?) . . . yes, casualties are possible, even likely. But if China is 'invited' in by the North Koreans, then there might not be any stiff fighting.

Well, these are sheer speculations. But China has occupied other areas and accepted the consequences -- Tibet for example -- so we have to consider such scenarios.


At 10:24 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

hey thanks for answering those questions! (i forgot about that post but the topic is a never-ending fascination for me!) ^^

At 12:14 PM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

à votre service . . .

Our words live on now, given the internet, so I'm sure that we'll be replying to old posts for years to come.


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