Friday, March 26, 2010
Why does China support an independent North Korea?
If they do so to put pressure on a perceived threat from a US lead alliance of South Korea, Japan and the legacy of SEATO then they are viewing the situation exactly backwards. SEATO is dead and buried and there is zero chance of any outside power intervening in East Asia except for the United States or possibly Russia. The local nations are bound in ASEAN, which is not a military alliance or are linked by bilateral relations with Japan or Taiwan. The nearest regional powers are Australia and India.
What would happen if the Chinese pressed for the peaceful unwinding of the Pyongyang regime? Normal regional politics, that have been frozen by the imposition of a Cold War division between the United States and whoever is supporting North Korea, would proceed. The American military presence would rapidly decline. This would probably happen more dramatically than it did in Europe after the Cold War. The Republic of Korea would be transformed from an American client forced into an uneasy quasi-alliance with Japan into a strong neutral balancing between China, Russia and Japan. The benefits for trade and resource development for all concerned would be significant.
The Chinese could upset this scenario by escalating tensions with a drive for resources that mimics the drive of Imperial Japan 70 years ago. In that worst case eventuality how much of an asset would North Korea prove to China? Would they serve as a club to hold off Japan or the ROK cooperating with America or would they prove to be a liability? My suspicion is that China would regret being tied to an alliance with the DPRK as much as Nazi Germany learned to regret being tied to Fascist Italy after Mussolini dragged Hitler's forces into the distraction of the Balkans.