Friday, February 15, 2013

Interesting Updates on the Last Post

There are some interesting updates on the last post on the Godfather offer for Korean reunification. Shortly after the Korean wrote the post, Lee Myeong-bak, the outgoing South Korean president, made a number of remarks that are quite relevant to the premises in the Korean's cockamamie plan to reunify Korean peninsula. To wit:
"We cannot make North Korea give up their nuclear weapon through dialogue and negotiation. We cannot expect them [North Korea] to give up their nuclear weapon before the regime changes and collapses." 
-- President Lee in a preliminary address in a breakfast meeting held on Feb. 15. This is the first time any democratically-elected South Korean president openly discussed the possibility of regime change in North Korea.
"Beginning in the middle of Hu Jintao's time in the office, China has told us: 'Please don't think we are only on the side of North Korea.' This is what China thinks, in its heart of hearts . . . There is a lot of talk about how a peaceful reunification led by South Korea does not go against China's interest. Although the Chinese government would not official make these statements, there are a lot of scholarly papers and research projects along these lines. This is the beginning of a very important change."
-- President Lee in an interview with Dong-A Ilbo, his last interview as the president. If this trend continues, it is hardly a pipe dream to think that China may join in the effort to induce a regime change in North Korea, or at least would not stand in the way of South Korea-led efforts to reunify that is short of a military conflict.
"We have been letting them [China] know that the U.S. military base will never be moved to North Korea after the reunification, that U.S.-Korea alliance would not affect the U.S.-China relationship, and that Korea can play the role of a peacekeeper when the interests of U.S. and China conflict with each other's. We began discussing this at the summit level.  . . .  At this point, China tells us what they do with North Korea. If they visit North Korea, they let us know that they did."
-- From the same interview. This is a huge statement on multiple levels. First, South Korea has been engaged in a summit-level conversation with China as the the contingency of North Korean collapse. Second, such conversation has covered such specific points as where the USFK will be after the reunification. In a different part of the interview, President Lee also mentioned that South Korea and China began discussing what to do with North Korea's nuclear weapon in case of North Korean collapse. Apparently, the tentative proposal is to have the United Nations inspectors seal and control the weaponry.
"There are people who hypothesize that (in case of an exigency) North Korea would call upon the Chinese military, and the military would not leave once it occupies North Korea. But the ethnic minority issue is the biggest headache for China. Just think about Tibet, Xinjiang... Turning North Korea into another ethnic minority territory is not something that China can do haphazardly."
-- Again, from the same interview. Unlike other statements here, this statement is based more on President Lee's own opinion rather than on his interaction with China. To me, the argument seems reasonable, although a little on the speculative side. Regardless, it is highly interesting.

Another development that has been interesting is that South Korea's progressives, traditionally in favor of dialogue and cooperation with North Korea, have been quietly nodding at these statements rather than objecting to the idea of regime change in North Korea. It appears that, after 15 years of debate about what to do with North Korea, a loose consensus has emerged in South Korean politics. The next decade will be an interesting time to watch.

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  1. Would China join an effort to induce regime change in North Korea? I don't know. Would China stand in the way of South Korean diplomatic and economic (and other non-military) efforts to induce regime change? One could argue that China isn't enforcing sanctions against North Korea as hard as it could be ... but otherwise I don't see a lot of visible evidence that China is currently standing in the way of such efforts. So, probably not.

    The thing is, I don't see such efforts being successful without either China's cooperation or some kind of internal incident in North Korea that triggers a regime collapse, even in spite of Chinese support. The latter is certainly possible, and will eventually happen - but if NK continues to be propped up for future decades as it is right now, then it may take all those decades for this to happen.

    This is encouraging, but what LMB has revealed w.r.t. China isn't exactly anything new. We've known about China's slowly changing mind towards a Seoul-led reunified Korea since WikiLeaks, if not before. Also, I feel that actions speak louder than words here ... this is a government that continues to repatriate North Koreans back to North Korea (including South Korean POWs). I have a _VERY_ difficult time seeing the People's Republic of China accepting the Republic of Korea's claim of diplomatic protection of every North Korean because of this - at least until moments before the collapse itself.

    I suppose it's possible that China has already made up its mind, and is giving these assurances behind closed doors to the right people in the other interested countries - but secretly, to avoid scaring North Korea. If that's not the case though, I'm not sure what it'd take to get China on board (or if that's even a realistic option at this early stage).

  2. I admit that I was shocked when I read the previous blog post and then immediately read what appeared to essentially be the same idea from LMB himself in a news article. I thought for a crazy moment that TK was some kind of government insider working to drum up popular support for this plan!

  3. Wishful non-thinking to believe China will accept less than full eviction of US influence from the Korean peninsula post-unification.

    Such wishful non-thinking defies nearly 5,000 years of hierarchy realist traditional East Asian strategic thinking.

  4. I agree with the Futurist. If I were Wen and were to go along with the NK regime change, I wouldn't accept anything less than a complete removal of the US troops from the Korean peninsula. If we depose Kim and Korea were to unify under SK's government, what would be the US rationale for its continued presence there other than imperialistic self-interest? If Korea were to unify, would Korea still want US troops there?

    If China puts this offer on the table and the Korean government demands the withdrawal of US troops from Korea and Korean people take to the streets to demand it, you don't think the US will be forced to leave? Instead of simply saying US troops will never leave, I would like to see this topic discussed more in depth.

  5. This may piss off quite a few I think.

    An analogy.

    You know with smartphones, u either root it or don't root it. Rooting returns "full sovereignity" back to the user. Non rooted, well, you have the appearance of "sovereignity" over your smartphone.

    I would argue that to Beijing (and Moscow), South Korea (and Japan as well as the NATO countries) has not rooted its smartphone.

    And it response to this situation and the scenario of North Korea failing we have the Northeast Project.

    Do note, I don't consider it a sin or a character flaw to be hopeful.

    1. Northeat Project ended several years ago. Not sure what your point is -- that Korea belongs to China? That is risible and the Chinese know it.

    2. well, lets hope nobody does anything stupid so that an expanded use of the northeast project gets triggered.

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  7. TK, I was wrong. You are right.

  8. the elephant in the room. russia/vladivostok. north korea is an important buffer state for it too.

    "N. Korea sanctions can only impact nuclear program - Moscow
    Russia will oppose international sanctions against North Korea that deal with trade and economic relations, a senior Russian diplomat has said."

    and after their experience with usa allied countries in the europe, they are not going to be bitten twice by usa allied countries in north east asia.

    i think russia is rich enough nowadays that it can take up any slack in aid (if any) from the zhongquo.
    and from the looks of it, they probably would have to lift a finger.

    1. Well, I'm no Russia expert but I can see it from a different POV - Russia has recently made several attempts to expand its diplomatic and economic power by inking deals in East Asia - stuff like the gas pipeline and so forth. Perhaps it's not so much as matter of wanting to prop NK up as wanting to have its current diplomatic and economic investments and efforts protected, instead of going to waste.

      If so, then I don't see this as a problem. SK has Kaesong, after all.

      I also get the feeling that Russia would be more willing to go for a grand bargain (for itself) that enhanced its soft power and its diplomatic standing, in return for staying out - or even being an active participant in - TK's plan.

      If nothing else, then consider this - if China is willing to come on board, then many of the same deals and options can be offered to get Russia on board.

  9. also as a perspective.

    i think north korea mindset also places a lot of emphasis on the study of history like for the tangren.

    during the tang dynasty, goguryeo was betrayed by the it who conspired with silla (and got screw by silla in return) leading to the end of goguryeo.

    i wonder whenever a south korean official seeks out zhongquo for dealing with their north korean issue, are they reminded of historic dynasty betrayal?

    1. The position of NK is different in two respects.

      First, without nukes, it would eventually self-destruct and collapse without any action taken by external actors (which includes SK). It may take decades, but it will happen.

      Second, because it has nukes and missiles, it is a threat to every single country that borders it - as well as some which don't border it directly.

      So, NK is in some ways in a stronger position than Goguryeo, but in other ways a vastly weaker one.

  10. There are some interesting updates on the last post on the Godfather offer for Korean reunification. Shortly after the Korean wrote the post, interesting plugin


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