The are workable options to avoid war on the Korean peninsula, but it will require compromise on all sides

Summary

There is a solution to the North Korean problem, but it does require China, the US and North and South Korea to compromise. There may be a real basis for a settlement, but one no-one wants to contemplate it, least of all the Americans.

The dilemma Is this:

  • the Chinese have consistently said they have two major concerns on the Korean peninsula:
    • that if there were to be a united Korea, they would have US troops on their border, something they will never countenance; and
    • that if there was a collapse of the North Korean regime, there would be a flood of refugees into Northern China, which they would feel obliged to not only manage, but also finance.
  • The Americans increasingly seem to feel holding-on to Korea is part of their DNA in spite of the fact it seems to be leading to a nuclear exchange in North Asia which will have catastrophic consequences for the whole world. This is made doubly dangerous as we seem to have psychologically unstable leaders in the White House and the Kremlin who, for separate reasons, appear to believe this situation is to their benefit.

Any solution though involves compromise on all sides, something that has been sadly lacking until now. So what might the compnents of a settlement look like?

  1. The US offers withdrawal of all its troops from South Korea in exchange for joint security guarantees from China and the US.
  2. In return, China cuts off ALL trade to North Korea, and forces Kim Jong-un to resign and flee to a third country, with the US and China guaranteeing Kim and the major players of his regime immunity from prosecution, a safe passage and financial support indefinitely.
  3. Korea holds free and fair elections under the supervision of the UN for the whole of the Korean peninsula.
  4. The UN puts into the Korean peninsula a peace keeping force of 250,000 troops to guarantee security while this process is taking place, but excludes troops from North and South Korean, US, China, and Japan. This could be paid for by Korea, Japan, the US, China, and ASEAN, plus a small special levy on all UN nations as avoiding nuclear war benefits all nations.
  5. Both south and north Korean troops would be disarmed in the lead up to the elections. Thereafter, the united Korean armed forces would be pledged under their new constitution to be a pacifist force not unlike the current Japanese armed forces.

There are clearly a number of implications to this, most of which are canvassed below…



 

There are workable options for Korea to avoid war, but it requires compromise on all sides including the US

By

Michael J. Liley

 

In September 2017, the world appears closer to a nuclear exchange than at any time since the end of the Second World War. The apex of this tension is the rogue state North Korea which also happens to have developed nuclear weapons and is rapidly moving towards acquiring the means to deliver them across oceans.

This situation has turned out to be an early test for the new Trump Administration in the US. Unfortunately for world peace, Trump, and North Korean Leader, Kim Jong-un seem to have similar narcissistic personalities, with both behaving unpredictably and prone to taking things personally. This, of course, makes the situation much more unpredictable than if it had been between more “normal” personalities. Although this is a very dangerous situation, I would like to suggest that with creative thinking and goodwill on all sides, there is a potential solution.

China and the US will be the key to any solution, and both have a great deal to lose should we all end up in war. Donald Trump is not afraid to tell anyone who will listen that he is a master deal maker. Here, with North Korea, there may be the biggest deal he could ever make, but his understanding of world affairs is seemingly so naïve, and he doesn’t seem to listen to his senior diplomats, especially since he has emasculated the State Department for ideological reasons. He more than ever needs them but does not seem to have much faith in them, while at the same time growing the military budget by tens of billions annually.

Meanwhile, China appears to be taking a back seat, feigning cooperation with the US, but in reality, doing very little to restrain North Korea. The cutting off of the North’s trade in coal (the North’s biggest export earner) with China early in April 2017  together with recent additional sanctions, may be a sign of things to come, but there needs to all embracing actions which will starve the North Koreans out. China is still a long way from that.

China and the US will be the key to any solution, and both have a great deal to lose should we all end up in war. Donald Trump is not afraid to tell anyone who will listen that he is a master deal maker. Here, with North Korea, there may be the biggest deal he could ever make in his life, but his understanding of world affairs is so naïve, his decision making is very erratic and unpredictable which only serves to destabilize the situation. The fact that he has emasculated the State department does not help at a time when he needs their expert advice more than ever.

There is no obvious way that North Korea could be stopped by military force. At the moment, North Korea is showing off its military hardware, including nuclear weapons. The North Korean leader, Kim Jong-un, is exhibiting these capabilities to deter the West (and China) from taking any meaningful action to curb his recklessness. Yet the North Koreans are more and more prepared to be provocative, which ranges from military parades and test-firing various rockets, and threatening to fire off nuclear warheads to the west coast of the US, and recently even to Australia.

Most military experts keep reassuring us that Pyongyang does not currently have the capabilities to carry out such threats, although this is changing rapidly and Kim is increasingly sourcing his rockets from rogue suppliers in the Ukraine. However, it is true that these same military experts gave the same reassurances before the initial Korean nuclear tests, and then the first firings of their intercontinental ballistic missiles. The US is using every means it can to sabotage the development of these capabilities particularly by hacking their systems, seemingly with some success. But if nothing is done to destroy this developing capability, Pyongyang will eventually acquire the means to destroy the US (and Australia).

For the first time since the invention of the Atomic bomb, a nuclear exchange seems like a real possibility. Clearly, this is something that neither China nor the US, together with their Allies, can tolerate. Meaningful action is needed and needed urgently.

This situation is very dangerous, both in the short and long term. The World is watching, and if the North Koreans are seen to be getting away with thumbing their noses with impunity at the great powers, this is a very serious and dangerous position for all of us to be in. The implication from this is that any little tin pot regime which acquires nuclear weapons in the future will think they suddenly will have equal status to the established nuclear powers, and then who knows what might happen? Further, if nothing is done by the US and China, it will give every crazed dictator a reason to go after the nuclear option because they will then think they will be propped up (unintentionally) by the great powers. It is urgent that China and the US act in unison on this for everyone’s sake.

China and US face several options. First, bomb North Korean nuclear, artillery and rocket sites. There is no guarantee this would be successful and it would almost certainly provoke retaliation against South Korea and possibly Japan. Although the Allies have estimated they could destroy the North Korean arsenal within a couple of hours, they also believe over this period it would allow North Korea to launch artillery attacks on Seoul (the capital of South Korea and just over 50 km from the North’s border and so well within artillery range) with a population of some 10 million people. It is estimated that over this two-hour period, there would be upwards of 200,000 fatalities in Seoul alone, let alone the rest of the country.

Secondly, China and US could invade North Korea. This would make the invasion of Iraq look like a Sunday afternoon picnic, with heavy casualties on both sides, with no guarantee it would avoid a nuclear exchange.

Thirdly, special forces could assassinate Kim Jong-un much in the same way as they assassinated Osama Bin Laden in anticipation that this would lead to a people’s uprising. Most experts though appear to believe that this would more likely lead to one of his hard line Generals taking over, which may lead to an even more unstable situation.

Fourthly, China and the US could sponsor a UN resolution banning trade with North Korea for all member states and impose sanctions on all third parties (like Chinese Banks) who violate the ban. Although this would eventually lead to the regime’s collapse, it would take some time, and there is no guarantee in the meantime that the North Korean government would not set off military strikes in retaliation.

In reality, there is probably going to need to be a combination of all of these options, but the one thing they cannot do is sit on their hands and hope the problem will go away. it is urgent that the US use diplomacy to get China on board, and jointly formulate a plan. What sort of deal could result?

In 2017, China is involved with 95 percent of North Korean international trade. China could force the collapse of the North Korean regime by closing their borders and jointly penalise, with the US, any other country (or organisation) which supports them in any way. This would lead to the regime’s collapse within days. They then would need to negotiate a settlement probably including a safe passage for all the major leaders of the regime to a third country with guarantees about their immunity from prosecution. This assumes though that a desperate regime would not take military action in the meantime, but there are no risk-free options in this situation.

The settlement could lead to a militarily neutral Korean peninsula which includes the withdrawal of all foreign troops (US and Chinese), the withdrawal of the THAAD missiles from South Korea, and neither China nor the US would any longer provide nuclear guarantees. Within 12 – 24 months, there would be free and fair elections for the whole of the Korean Peninsula, overseen by perhaps a neutral entity like the European Union. In return, the united Korea would have to undertake to adopt a pacifist constitution, not unlike the Japanese one adopted after World War 2, with security guarantees from both the US and China. The new Korea would be allowed armed forces but only to be used in self-defence, just as the Japanese are able to do today.

In the interim, a UN administration would be set up to run the country and to supervise elections.  An international military and police force would be assembled to keep order but would specifically exclude US, Chinese, and Japanese personnel, and a UN appointed Administrator would run North Korea in the meantime. Once elections were held, and a constitution approved by the people, it would be up to the new Korean Government to define the way forward.

In this, the new united Korea could learn much from the German unification process in 1989-1990. For starters, they should avoid much of the huge reconstruction costs the Germans suffered by basically allowing the market, in large part, to finance it. In the German case, they allowed parity between the Deutsch mark and the East mark virtually straight away when at the time of unification the market value of the East mark was a between a half and a third the value of the West German currency. This meant that there was very little incentive for western companies to invest in East Germany, so much of the huge cost of reconstruction was born by the West German taxpayers which constrained growth of the unified German state for more than a decade. This cost far more than it need have, and left no permanent incentive for the market to move to the east to help reconstruction.

The best way for a united Korea to handle this would be by having a federation with two currencies. This would give a huge incentive for South Korean, Japanese, European, US and Chinese companies to move operations to the north as it would be much lower cost to operate than almost any other country in Asia, North America or Europe. This would rapidly allow the north to grow and develop until the exchange rates eventually come together, maybe over a 40-50 year period. This would be highly advantageous for South Korea also as it would allow them to have a low-cost economy from which they could run their considerable manufacturing capabilities with a population which speaks the same language, in the same cultural milieu, and which would increasingly operate under the same laws. The subsequent additional taxes generated by an increasingly prosperous North would largely support the building of the significant infrastructure which would need to be constructed to get the population out of poverty and into productive work.

This would be highly advantageous for South Korea also as it would allow them to have a low-cost economy on their doorstep. From here they could run their considerable manufacturing capabilities with a population which speaks the same language, in the same cultural milieu, and which would increasingly operate under the same laws. The subsequent additional taxes generated by an increasingly prosperous North would largely support the building of the significant infrastructure to get the population out of poverty and into productive work. It would also mean substantially reduced spending on defence on both sides of the border, the savings of which could be channeled into further economic development.

It is said there are two major things that worry China about Korean unification. First, a failed state on its border with accompanying refugee problems, starvation and death. China thinks it would be obliged to pick up the tab for fixing this which would be a major cost to its treasury for very little benefit. Secondly, it does not want a successful democratic state on its borders occupied by US troops and hostile to its interests.

This solution addresses both of these issues by disarming Korea, having all foreign troops withdrawn, getting the new state to renounce an aggressive armed state and nuclear guarantees, and provides an orderly transition. Just like Germany. It would create a new prosperous state with prospects of high growth for many years to come, and for which China will no doubt be its major trading partner. It would also provide stability – the thing China values above all else. In other words a much better solution for both China and the rest of the world.

A unified Korean state would be brilliantly positioned to become the new Asian economic super-tiger and a potentially politically stable one at that.

Now that would really be to China’s advantage.

 

mjlwritings@gmail.com

Skype: mliley

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What might President Hilary Clinton’s foreign policy have looked like 2017-2020?

……extract from my book “Australia and the World 2040”.

In 2018, an alliance of Arab Academics, leading business people, politicians, and lay people formed a group called “Towards a true Arab Secular Consensus” TTASC. The basis of this organisation was a five year Study by a group of sociologists from Cairo University which looked at Arab societies pre and post the so-called Arab Spring. What they sought to find out was why the so called secularists, and their political parties, had failed so badly in these revolutions. Their conclusions had a profound effect on these people.

Their findings stated that it was not true that secularism had no support in Arab societies – quite the opposite was true. By far the most popular government form was a secular government where constitutions formally separated Church and State. This was of course what all the dictators or Tunisia, Libya, and Egypt claimed to be the case with their dictatorships. But it was not the case at all. In those societies, the governments designated a particular church which favoured their world view, supported them with cash and resources, and squeezed the other ones out. There was never a secular state as such. This arrangement so annoyed the other churches, that when the Arab Spring came they saw it as their chance for revenge, and managed to highjack the democratic agenda through superior organisation and funding from sympathetic petro states before the true secular forces could get focussed and organised. The new TTASC organisation sought to educate, create debate, and form political parties to argue for what they regarded as true secularism. Secretly, Western intelligence services began to fund the TTASC.

Hilary Clinton could see this too, as she sought to find a way through the mess which was Syria. In her inauguration speech of 2017, Clinton went said:

“Unfortunately, we live in a dangerous world. The civil war in Syria has continued on its bloody path now for almost 6 years. The factions are no closer to resolution than they were four years ago, in spite of our military trying to blast then apart with our extraordinarily accurate and skilled strategic bombing from our drones. This is the most dangerous situation in the world right now, and I pledge to work with our Middle Eastern Allies and friends in finding some sort of peace in this troubled country. We must find a way of showing all Syrians that a society can be formed which treats all religions equally, and that Governments are seen to be even-handed in the eyes of all of its citizens”.

It was true that the Syrian Civil War had raged on since 2011, when the so-called Arab Spring showed so much promise of an Arab democratic awakening. Unlike Libya and Tunisia, which settled down fairly quickly to stable but not exactly democratic secular regimes, Syria in 2017 remained a quagmire and Clinton was entitled to some caution. What followed though was some of the most effective US diplomacy in living memory.

Obama’s Secretary of State, John Kerry, made it his mantle when he came to office in the second Barrack Obama term, that he would do everything in his power to obtain an Arab-Israeli settlement. It took him nearly four years, but eventually he had an agreement in June 2016. In exchange of land for peace i.e. in other words, substitute the land taken by the ultra orthodox settler movement on Arab land for land in Israel which presented a corridor between the West-Bank and the Gaza Strip (something the Palestinian had always longed for, and which in many ways made the new Palestinian state viable), and in declaring Jerusalem an international city under collective control of Israel, Palestine and the UN. Both the Palestinian side and the Israeli side now had something they could live with. They had a mutual interest in making it work, but no-one could have predicted the Syrian mess.

By 2016, the Syrian war had been going on for 5 years, locked in a stalemate which would have made World War 1 Generals proud. With so much hope after the historic Arab-Israeli settlement, the region seemed destined to slide back into chaos. They did not bargain on either Clinton’s determination, or Kerry’s skill. Clearly the only way to save this situation was to get the Arabs to resolve the situation themselves.

The incoming Clinton administration knew that there were grave concerns in the Middle East about Obama’s Climate Treaty with Xi JinPing. After all, in the last three years since action on climate change had gathered force, they had seen the oil price drop from $110 per barrel in 2010 to $62 in 2016. This could only be as a result of a migration away from oil to alternative energy sources as the price of carbon started to climb. For this, the Gulf States were in a bind. Much of their wealth when the oil money was rolling-in in the last 50 years had been wasted in extravagant lifestyles of the ruling elites, and flagrant wastage  of energy by the regimes which paid zero notice of modern energy conservation technologies. Further, they had done little to use modern financial devices such as sovereign wealth funds to accumulate cash and invest it for the long term in the interest of their populations as the Norwegian Government had done.

Clinton wanted to do a deal. She suggested the Middle Eastern Arab States needed as one to force a regional settlement on Syria, whereby the various ethnic and religious factions were given a district which they could regard as their sovereign territory. This might end up a bit like the former Yugoslavia, but it might be the price that needed to be paid. Further, Clinton advised that she expected the Gulf States to commit to forming a regional military force of 100,000 men to go into Syria after this regional agreement was signed to ensure its transition.

In parallel, the CIA and MI6 funded the emergence of credible educated secularists, and used modern communication techniques to position them as the alternatives to the literally warring factions of Syria. In doing this, the US gave these statesmen a gift in that if they could come to a settlement, all imports of oil in the future into the US would be ordered from the Gulf States (this was hardly a big concession because she knew that oil use in the US was dramatically dropping in favour of alternative energies and the local production of fracking inspired natural gas). It nevertheless gave the Sheiks of the Gulf States something to sell to the populations, and greatly increased the power and prestige of the secularists.

In 2018, after nearly 10 years of war, Clinton had an agreement, and the Arab Military force moved into Syria to keep the peace. It would be another 6 years until their withdrawal, after much more bloody fighting and killing, at the end of which half a dozen mini states were formed in Syria, with secularists heading four of their governments. Many equated it to the portioning of India and Pakistan in the late 1940’s – an apt description.

Clinton had several other urgent foreign affairs issues to address if she was going to keep her promise of progress in the world, not least the Korean Peninsula. North Korea by 2017, had become even more unstable than before. In December, 2016, there appeared to have been a military coup in North Korea. The People’s Radio broadcast on 16th March 2017 that due to Kim Jong-Un’s inability to stand up to the West and the criminal regime in South Korea, VMar Ri Yong Ho, previously head of the Korean People’s Army had taken over as President and Prime Minister. In the broadcast he said the people could no longer tolerate the appeasement of the West and China and the Korean state would do all in its power to stand up to imperialist and appeasers in the interests of the heroic Korean People. China’s reaction was fierce and decisive, in that if they did not get undertakings of peace from the North Koreans in the next three days, they would take decisive action to shore up their position.

Within 24 hours, the North Koreans started shelling the Chinese Province of Shenyang “in retaliation for the Chinese aggression”. China responded by cutting off all food and water supplies to Korea. Within 12 hours, North Korea landed a “dirty” nuclear bomb on Shenyang killing 3500 people in the process. Within two days, an invasion force had amassed on the border and went over on the night of 24th December.

The West was torn. On the one hand it regarded Pyongyang as dangerously unstable, but it was greatly worried that the invasion of another country by China unchallenged by the West might set a dangerous precedent. Clinton’s response was to immediately fly to Beijing for emergency talks with her new friend Xi Jinping. The results were momentous.

In the interests of stability, and the economic and political progress of the Asia region, Xi proposed a settlement. China would force the collapse of the North Korean regime in return for the withdrawal of all US troops on the Peninsula and the US nuclear guarantee for South Korea. Within 12 months, there would be free and fair elections for the whole of the Korean Peninsula overseen by the European Union who has no vested interest in this fight. After that, it would be up to the new Korean Government to define the way forward. In the meantime, a UN military force from all over the world, but specifically excluding US, Chinese, Japanese and Korean troops will be assembled to keep order on both sides of the border, and a UN appointed Administrator will run North Korea in the meantime.

The new united Korea leant much from the German unification process. For starters, they avoided the huge reconstruction costs that the western part of Germany poured into the East by basically allowing the market, in large part, to finance it. This was brought about by having a federation with two currencies, and watch south Korean, Japanese, European, US and Chinese investment money pour into the North until in 50 years time when the north and south economies would become  similarly prosperous, the currency values would converge at which time they would have a united currency. In the meantime the plan was that North Korea would become a huge low cost factory for the south and the rest of Asia, supported by South Korean expertise, money and their huge conglomerates. The subsequent new taxes would largely support the significant infrastructure which would need to be build to get the population out of poverty and into productive work.

And so it proved to be. Today, in 2040, North Koreans have about twice the average income as the Chinese in 2015, most of the population are now out of poverty, there is no starvation and the Koreans are on track to converge their currencies in 2050. With a population of about 70 million and growing at about 1% per annum, they are on track to have an economy about the same size as Japan by 2075. Japan’s population contracted from 125m to 85 million from 2010 to 2040, and is expected to be less than the unified Korea by 2075.

In 2017, Clinton and Kerry jumped at this new Korean opportunity. This was an historic chance to rid the world of yet another rogue nuclear state. Just as in 1989, when the Berlin Wall came down, the British and French were less than enthusiastic about a united Germany, the second and third most powerful states in Asia, Japan and India, had similar reservations about Korea. The new right wing government in Japan was particularly upset about being excluded in an arena they regarded as their “back yard”, but for the sake of peace, they acquiesced. So eventually did the Indians in return for US support in their continuing conflicts with Pakistan.

Clinton had achieved one more of her dominos for the sake of world peace. Very soon another would emerge which may have a greater long term impact than any of the others.

In 2014, ex-cricketer Imran Khan became the new President of Pakistan. Cambridge educated Khan, playboy extraordinaire from his life in London, had returned to Pakistan to enter politics. His ticket was pro-Islam, but not terrorism, but he very much disagreed with Barrack Obama’s policy of drone strikes in border areas of north western Pakistan near the border of Afghanistan. Khan argued that there are the “good” Taliban and the “bad” Taliban. He promised in his election manifesto that if he could get the Americans to cease their drone attacks that he could get the “good” to control the “bad”. In other words, cease the terrorist attacks on troops in Afghanistan stemming from Pakistan, and set up an Islamist government without the extremes i.e. no education for girls, be-heading or cutting off of hands, or female circumcision. They would still have Sharia law and strict adherence to Islamic beliefs.

He also undertook to send in a dozen divisions of Pakistani troops into those provinces to rid them of extremist under the guidance of the “good”. He knew this may be just a ruse to settle old scores but thought it worth the risk. In return for this clean up, the US would finance a security wall (not unlike that seen in East Germany) along the Afghanistan border to keep the factions apart. This Clinton agreed to.

Beyond that, Khan wanted to transition a fundamental change in the way the sub-continent functioned. He was very much aware of the historic enmity between Pakistan and India, which had poisoned progress since partition in 1947. For instance in 2012, the total trade between the two countries was $2.4 billion. This compared to trade between Pakistan (population 182m) and China (population 1300m) for the same period of $12billion when Pakistan and India (population 1200m) live next door to one another. Or to look at it another way, neighbours Australia (population 23m) and New Zealand (population 5m) had overall two-way trade in 2012 of $21b. Pakistan was nowhere near maximizing their economic and trade ties with India or vice versa.

Khan was very much aware of the lack of economic activity on the sub-continent, and saw fixing that as a means of lifting a lot of his population out of the grinding poverty that so many of them lived in. As part of the resolution of the border disputes and bringing the Taliban under control, he advised Clinton that he would propose an economic union between the major countries of the sub-continent (India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, and Sri Lanka), if she would sponsor that trading block into the Asia-Pacific Partnership Agreement.

This finally came about in mid 2018, and in 2038 India and Pakistan did a total of $158billion in total trade.

Further to the North Korea discussion…..

An interesting additional dimension to my entry earlier in the week on North Korea  appeared in “The Age” this morning (Saturday 9/3/2013) It states:

Missile Shield Spurs China’s Korea Stance

BY JOHN GARNAUT CHINA CORRESPONDENT BEIJING

CHINA’S support for tougher sanctions against North Korea has been prompted in part by concerns of an evolving USanchored missile defence system on its borders, say Chinese and Western analysts. The missile defence systems involve new land and sea-based radar systems, missile interceptors and intelligence sharing between the US and its regional allies aimed at shooting downa North Korean missile during the relatively lowvelocity launch phase. Analysts note that these systems could also be used to shoot down missiles launched from China’s eastern regions.

 Australia is building three air warfare destroyers with Aegis radar and missile control systems that can be potentially integrated into the US system. ‘‘ North Korea’s test of a nuclear warhead and missile may not bring much of a [direct] threat to China,’’ said Cai Jian, a North Korea expert at Shanghai’s Fudan University. ‘‘ But the response from Japan or South Korea, or America’s strategic advances into the region, are more disadvantageous to China. These are the reasons China opposes North Korea’s tests.’’

 The sanctions against last month’s nuclear test by North Korea were jointly drafted by China and the US and endorsed by the UN Security Council on Thursday night. They will make it more difficult for Pyongyang to shift money and technology in aid of its nuclear program.‘‘ These sanctions will bite and bite hard,’’ said Susan Rice, the US ambassador to the UN. The UN resolution follows Pyongyang’s successful ballistic missile test in December, as well as a stream of bellicose invective. Prior to the agreement, Pyongyang threatened to turn South Korea into ‘‘ a sea of flames’’ .

 Responding to the resolution, Kim Jong-un’s regime said on Friday it was nullifying all agreements of non-aggression and denuclearisation with South Korea and was cutting off the North-South hotline. Officials in Seoul said they were on the alert for any possible attack as Pyongyang seeks to vent its anger. ‘ The higher decibel of invective isa bit worrisome,’’ said Bill Richardson, the former governor of New Mexico, who has travelled to North Korea eight times, most recently in January. ‘‘ It’s the highest negative level I’ve ever seen, and it probably means that the hardline elements, particularly the military and not the Foreign Ministry, are in control.’’ On the other hand, Mr Richardson said, ‘‘ China is part of asignificant sanctions effort, and this may cool the North Koreans down, may temper their response.’’

 Several analysts said the effectiveness of the sanctions would depend on China adopting a far greater level of enforcement than it had previously. Regional missile defence systems are evolving in response to North Korea’s weapons program and also to increasing concerns about China’s military intentions. ‘ It allows Japan to say, ‘We’re buildinga missile defence system against North Korea but we can also use it to defend ourselves against China,’’’ said Scott Harold, a security expert with the Rand Corporation in Hong Kong. Dr Harold said the US had been strongly encouraging South Korea and Japan to engage in defence cooperation . ‘‘ Beijing is worried that this is a prelude toa trilateral alliance or a Pacific version of NATO.’’

 Those defence systems may, in turn, prompt China to build more missiles  ‘ The overall direction in which missile defence is going means the US, Japan, probably South Korea and Australia, get used to and work on the basis of integrating their systems ,’’ said Stephan Fruehling, an expert on missile defence systems at the Australian National University’s Strategic and Defence Studies Centre.

 ‘ This has political implications and symbolism, and that is what is causing China grief,’’ he said.

 Sam Roggeveen, editor of the Lowy Institute’s The Interpreter website, said there was a risk of a regional ballistic missile defence race: ‘‘ The easiest way to defeat ballistic missile defences is to overwhelm them with numbers.’’ Chinese analysts say Beijing’s backing of the new round of UN sanctions reflects frustration with North Korea but not a shift in its underlying strategic calculus. ‘‘ People are fed up with North Korea, but I’m not sure this signifies a new age,’’ said Jia Qingguo, professor of international relations at Peking University. ‘ China’s policies are in atransitional period, China is in a transitional period, andI think this period might be quite long.’’

With NEW YORK TIMES

Copyright © 2013 Fairfax Media

In other words, there is nothing like self interest to spur action. It seems China thinks that the possession of ballistic missiles by North Korea is spurring on the western allies in the Pacific: South Korea, Japan, US. Australia, to do something about protecting their population by building additional alliances and technologies which will negate the affects of the North Korean missile capabilities. This in turn would also negate the effectiveness of China own arsenal.

This is the last thing China wants. Up until now there has been a willingness on both sides – particularly the US and China  to try and work through their differences in order to come to a peaceful accomodation in the Pacific. The growth of a new military  alliance, facilitated by North Korean intransigence, just might make the Chinese come to the same accord I described in my article earlier in the week i.e. a historical agreement to dismantle the North Korean regime in return for with drawal of US troops from South Korea, declare the Korean peninsula politically neutral enforced by UN troops (not including the US), and hold free and fair elections.

The alternative to this will not only be the development of a military alliance of democracies in the Asia Pacific, but the other action mooted in my earlier articel i.e. the withdrawal of the nuclear guarantee to Japan and South Korea meaning they will acquire nuclear weapons aimed straight at China.

These moves might be just what the new Chinese Premier will need to build a case with the PLA, and the remaining hardliners in his cabinet, to move on North Korea.

It would be both historical and highly statesman-like, and may be the dawn of a new Chinese democracy and peace in what is now becoming an unstable part of the world.

It also happens to be the world engine room for growth in the forseeable future. The stakes are high to get it right…

The New Korea?

There have recently appeared two interesting, but very different takes on the behavior of the bizarre North Koreans

A view on the geo-political implications of North Korean behavior http://www.cato.org/publications/commentary/time-us-disengage-north-korea-crisis?utm_source=Cato+Institute+Emails&utm_campaign=7a8995a9f8-Cato_Today&utm_medium=email&mc_cid=7a8995a9f8&mc_eid=271f8f78af

and a view on China’s motives:  http://www.businessinsider.com/why-china-supports-north-korea-2013-2

My view is I think it is time the world community came to an historic agreement and closed down this rogue state before they blow us all up. Isn’t it time that China and the US came to a statesman-like agreement about those crazies. Surely they could do a deal whereby in return for US troops withdrawing from the Korean peninsula and being replaced by UN force including Chinese, they could hold fee elections and unite the peninsula. China doesn’t want a nuclear Nth Korea any more than the US does.

In many ways, the first article by Doug Bandow is sort of agreeing with this view, although he took it further by suggesting the US abandons the nuclear guarantees with Japan and South Korea, which may force China in to coming to a wider settlement including a militarily neutral united Korea. It is an interesting thought. It might also bring Russia into play and force it to play a more constructive role than it has hitherto, both in Asia and the Middle East. A US withdrawal from Korea and the removal of the guarantee certainly is high stakes, but may ironically be less risky than the current stale-mate, where the North Koreans seem to think they can thumb their noses at the great powers with impunity. This is a very serious and dangerous position for both great powers to take. Any little tin pot regime who acquires nuclear weapons in the future will think they suddenly will have equal status, and who knows what might happen. It also gives every tinpot dictator every reason to go after the nuclear option because they then will be propped up (unintentionally) by the great powers.

I think in terms of geo-politics the Korean situation is a bigger issue for both great powers than a middle east settlement but there appears to be zero momentum for it.  Withdrawal of the nuclear guarantee may be seen as the ultimate in “real politic” but if it ultimately brings to a head the issues that are bubbling along now and leads to a settlement, it could be Obama’s and the new Chinese regime’s greatest foreign policy achievement. It certainly should be worth considering, and undoubtedly ups the stakes considerably.

Not sure about the view on China’s intentions. I hear what he says about mineral rare earth, but the benefits sort of pale into insignificance when compared to the risk of regional wars with the withdrawal of the US. Personally, I would have thought a democratic, neutral, economically progressive united Korea would be far more beneficial to China than an unstable nuclear armed failed state.

The other point I’d make, is that any unification should be thought about in the light of the German experience. They would be crazy to converge onto a common currency as Germany did to its great cost. Better to have a federation with two currencies, and watch south Korean, Japanese, US and Chinese investment money pour into the North until in 50 years time when the north and south economies are similarly prosperous then they could unite the currencies.

The North is brilliantly positioned to become the new north Asian economic super tiger.Now that would really be to China’s advantage.

No Waving, Just Drowning

Comment on Economist article (31 May 2010) “No Waving, Just Drowning”

@AJ Johnstone

Yes a trade-off with between Taiwanese unification and Korean unification with the South in control maybe is something which could be put on the table. However, this would not get rid of China’s fear of having American troops at their borders. Maybe they could agree to leave the GIs in the South or even have then withdraw completely and replace by a UN international force. In any case, if South Korea controls the entire peninsula the need for US troops is not as great and South Korea itself has considerable military capability in its own right. With American military aid, surely this could be worked out.

There remains though the financial challenges of unification. There were many major mistakes in the German unification where it cost West Germany far more than it need have, principally moving to full unification immediately. Some sort of interim phase should be looked at where the market can adjust and investment can flow to the lower cost North Korea and with South Korean economic stability, management and institutions, as well as democratic base, there is no reason why North Korea could not morph into a low-cost economic tiger right on the doorstep of South Korea, Japan and China. Rather than costing the South, this could enhance the prosperity of the whole north asian region, including North China. In this though, unlike the two Germanies, it would be essential that for a time the North and South have two currencies, and their relative value can converge  as the north approaches the South’s prosperity. This could take 50 years, but it would give the South (and China) a low-cost manufacturing tiger at their doorstep and provide a huge incentive for both the South and China to invest in a successful economic future for the North.

These same principles incidentally would come into play in a political solution to a Palestinian/Israeli settlement: Palestine (Gaza and the West Bank) becomes the low-cost economic tiger next door to high-cost, high-tech Israel and the emerging economy of newly democratic Egypt with its huge consumer base..