Sunday, June 6, 2010

San Francisco Chronicle on China's role as "North Korea's prime enabler"

Let's not be vague now:
Over the last several years, China has given North Korean government officials jewels and precious stones worth $4 million, perfume and cosmetics worth $4.7 million, furs valued at $3.8 million as well as alcohol and tobacco products worth $44 million, all in direct violation of a 2006 United Nations Security Council sanction that China voted to approve.

The world is trying to determine how to punish North Korea for sinking a South Korean warship in March, killing 46 sailors. But all will be for naught as long as China continues serving as North Korea's enabler. Along with those luxury goods, China also provides nearly all of North Korea's fuel and more food than anyone else - $2 billion in declared aid each year and far more provided under the table.

U.N. resolution 1718 "prohibits the provision of large-scale arms, nuclear technology" as well as "luxury goods," which the regime uses to enrich itself and secure loyalty from its minions.

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has spent much of the last 10 days urging a reluctant China to condemn the naval attack. But that's a hollow exercise. China did criticize North Korea after its first nuclear-weapons test, in 2006. What did that accomplish? China shipped 20 percent more caviar to Kim Jong il the next year, and North Korea tested another nuclear weapon in 2009.
Take that, Stephen Erickson. But wait, there's more:
Government and NGO reports from the United States, Canada, Europe, Australia and Japan detail China's luxury-good exports and show that they actually increased by 40 percent in the year after the first nuclear-weapon test. The congressional report says most of the luxury items "come into North Korea largely cost-free." If anyone is to blame for North Korea's renegade behavior and the misery of its people, it is China.
I've been saying this for years. And the Chronicle does seem to understand the reasons why China does what it does:
Its leaders know that if they back away from North Korea, reduce or eliminate aid, the regime will quickly collapse. Almost everyone in the world would welcome that except China. The Chinese worry about millions of refugees pouring over the border, about a new government in Pyongyang dominated by South Korea and its ally, the United States.
But then Joel Brinkley of the Chronicle goes off the rails, joining Mr Erickson in the ditch below. He offers what is meant to be a helpful solution, but one which is completely untenable to anyone who actually understands the region:
Renegade governments like North Korea's threaten most everyone. It's in the entire world's interest to assure China that it does not have to fear a collapse of the Kim Jong il regime. Shouldn't South Korea and the United States, the two most important players here, work out an agreement with Beijing?

Make China aware of the immediate benefits. If North Korea were a friendly, peaceful nation, the United States could reduce its military presence in the region to something China ardently wants. Under an agreement, China could administer the country for an interim period. The U.N. Security Council, where China holds a veto, would work out a long-term solution.

No, the end result might not be a unified, democratic Korea. But the state would finally be stable and calm, its people at last given enough to eat.
That would be a relief for most everyone on Earth.
If you really believe that North Koreans essentially being occupied by China in some sort of Inner Cháoxiān Autonomous Region would actually make the place "stable and calm," I think you need to stop pre-celebrating the passage of Proposition 420. North Koreans — many well-armed and well-trained by their Pyongyang masters — would rise up against any kind of force China would send in, particularly if it looked like Beijing were to set in motion plans to make the move more permanent. Even if Beijing could keep them down through force of arms, there would be guerrillas in their midst for years and years.

Let's not forget that it was an interim solution during an "interim period" that led to the two Koreas being divided as they are now. That kind of talk simply won't fly (in South Korea as well).

No, no, no, Joel Brinkley of the San Francisco Chronicle, the only acceptable options for stability would be if North Korea is administered by Koreans. And that leads two options: the former DPRK under a Seoul-run unified state (à la the former East Germany) or a DPRK under new management that recognizes the folly of past ways (and may be in close economic cooperation with South Korea).

If you're going to propose some grand bargain, make it something that accurately considers the players involved. I will elaborate more on this in a future post, but here is the kernel of an idea (at the bottom of this earlier link):
How about reassuring China that they have nothing to fear from a unified Korea under Seoul's control, by the US promising no American bases in former DPRK territory and Seoul promising that Chinese economic agreements made with Pyongyang will be honored?
If there is just one thing to be learned from the period after August 1945, it's that Korea is not to be partitioned up and given away.

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