China is trying to portray itself as being a reliable economic and political player on a world scale – that the US and the G20 don’t have to act as the World’s economic engine or political fair players/referees. And the Chinese can point to strong verbal support for Euro Bonds as a sign of financial maturity [but still not yet allowing their currency to appreciate gradually to ease economic imbalances worldwide]. However, in the case of political maturity North Korea stands front and center as China’s Israel – a satellite state which can rely on unstinting Chinese support regardless of what malfeasance the North Koreans think they can get away with.
An editorial in today’s NYTimes catches the flavor of this Chinese political duplicity. China is doing nothing in the face of bald aggression by North Korea as it sinks a South Korean vessel with the loss of 46 sailors lives. Just quickly reverse this – and ask what would happen if the Taiwanese had sunk a Chinese frigate in the South China Sea with a similar loss of Chinese sailors lives?
China so far is refusing to acknowledge that North Korea did anything. This has strong echoes of China letting North Korea go nuclear so now North Korean threats of great irrationality [the words “all out war” have been uttered in Pyongyang repeatedly through this crisis] have real stingers – intermediate range rockets armed with nuclear warheads. This tolerance of Korean mischief is done on false pretenses. China, already supplying North Korea with billions in direct aid and being North Korea’s last major trading partner, says it fears waves of refugees from North Korea if any world-wide sanctions are imposed on North Korea. The real fear might be a united Korea as a competing economic super-power or the US relieved of a defense manpower
South Korea, Japan, Russia and the US should offer to take care of and settle temporarily in South Korea or Russia any refugees until the crisis is resolved. Now here comes the real sticking point for the Chinese – what is a practical resolution of the crisis? Inevitably there will be regime change as Kim Jong-il will succumb to ill health, likely another stroke. So the conjecture is thatKim’s son, Kim Jong-won is being set up as his successor.
The real problem is will this be just replacing one Kim puppet for another. And how else can North Korea replace its leader. Ahhh. Can China afford to have free and popular elections for replacing Kim Jong-il? How will this play back home in China where only Hong Kong is allowed to “experioment with” democratic elections. And so now you have, as Paul Harvey would say, the rest of the story.