Need for America and China to work together on North Korean situation
North Korea: Why America and China need to deal with Kim Jong-un together http://www.abc.net.au/news/2017-03-26/why-america-and-china-need-to-deal-with-kim-jong-un-together/8385362 By North Asia correspondent Matthew Carney, Nearly every week, Kim Jong-un seems to announce a successful test in his nuclear and missile program, edging him ever closer to his aim of striking America with a nuclear warhead.
Taking the North Korean leader out with military action is now being discussed, but that could lead to much bigger problems and plunge the region into years of chaos and instability. Worse still, it could force a confrontation between China and the US.
On the face of it, the North Korean military looks impressive. It has about 1.2 million troops. But the reality is that the weaponry is outdated and obsolete, much of it from the Soviet era. It’s no match for any modern army, so Mr Kim could be removed effectively.
Christopher Hill, probably the most experienced US diplomat in North Korean affairs, says with Mr Kim in power, there is no chance of dialogue. “Frankly, we don’t have a real insight into his thinking — we do know he seems to be totally uninterested in negotiation,” he said.
The real danger, said Mr Hill, is that the Trump administration has little understanding about how to deal with the North Korea threat, and the US State Department is in disarray. “We have a kind of Home Alone situation at the State Department, so we don’t have a lot of people focusing on this issue at this point,” he said.
Military action could prove costly Despite this, while visiting North Asia last week, US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson ruled out negotiation and put military action on the table. It’s action that could prove costly: a humanitarian disaster, with biological and nuclear weapons at play; a contested occupation as China and America battle for control.
Dr Euan Graham from the Lowy Institute says it could prove more destructive and costly than the Iraq war.
“Kicking in the door is the easy part; once you go in and occupy ground, then if that’s contested you can very quickly find even superpowers’ resources can become thinly spread,” he said.
Mr Hill says people like to compare the situation on the Korean Peninsula with the reunification of Germany, but this would actually be much worse. Frankly speaking, the difference between North Korea and East Germany cannot be described,” he said.
“They are just worlds apart in terms of what Germany had to do and what the South Koreans would have to do.”
These immense challenges make policymakers and experts around the world question the value of removing Mr Kim and his nuclear program.
Dr Graham says the US then has a choice: “Is it better to live with this threat and manage it through deterrence and existing sanctions like it did with China and the Soviet Union for decades? Or does it become so unacceptable that it has to accept the high cost of potential economic recession in north-east Asia and military conflict that could take several thousands if not higher numbers of lives?”
China and America are at oddsThe complicating factor is that the powers at play cannot agree on what North Korea should become. They all have competing strategic needs.
China wants a new regime that will serve its interests, and it fears US troops on its border.
Professor Cheng Xiaohe from Beijing Renmin University says China will have to deal with a flood of refugees.
“Millions of North Koreans will seek safe havens in China or across the 38th parallel into the minefields to seek protection in South Korea,” he said.
“Even hundreds of thousands will take to boats to sail boat to other countries to seek refuge.”
It’s doubtful whether America wants to lead another foreign intervention. The Iraq campaign almost bankrupted the country with little to show in return, and it left hundreds of thousands dead.
South Korea too is losing its desire for reunification. It would cost several trillion dollars at least and threaten South Korea’s thriving high tech economy which is 18 times bigger than North Korea’s.
Dr Jiyoung Song from the Carnegie Council for Ethics in International Affairs says the younger generation in the South have very little in common with their brethren in the North.
Most South Koreans are definitely worried about the economic side — the unification costs, but also the unemployment and competition for jobs and universities.
The only way forward…Mr Hill, who led the push for a negotiated solution with the six-party talks that ended in 2009 after North Korea withdrew and resumed its nuclear program, says the only way forward is to engage with China and plan how to deal with the regime and the aftermath.
“We have to have an in-depth dive deep with the Chinese to really figure out how together we can deal with that and I think we need to do it and do it a lot more,” he said.
But Mr Hill says both sides have to get over their mutual distrust.
“Many Chinese see the demise of North Korea as a Chinese defeat and a US victory,” he said.”They worry that the US might take advantage of this and put US troops right up on the Chinese border.”
Dr Cheng agrees that China is afraid of being played by the US.
“All countries need to work together to settle their differences and adopt a joint line to build that country for peace and stability and carry out post-reunification works,” he said.
But while experts may agree in a call for global engagement, the Trump administration seems to be turning inwards towards more isolationist policies.
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