Wednesday, May 06, 2020

Korean conundrum of China

In the family tradition, Kim Jong Un pits China against US ...
(Pic courtesy: Nikkei Asian Review)

Was hunting for some good documentaries. Came across this ABC News documentary. I'd highly recommend if you are a China watcher.

First few interesting points from the documentary. A broad outline.

1. Chinese wanted to develop a lot of Korean - Chinese border areas along with Kim Jong Un's uncle Jang Song - Thaek.

2. The $350Mn bridge in Dandong (Liaoning) which lands on a farm across Yalu River in North Korea. Google Map link here.

3. This bridge construction has come to a grinding halt, after Kim Jong Un executed his uncle. Probably for close ties with China without informing Kim Jong Un.

4. There are bridges that KJU built for Generals to escape, in case war breaks out in North Korea. And Chinese are nervous about that if war breaks out, and these fellows escape, US & South Korean tanks would be there in no time.

5. North Koreans treat Manchurian region of China as theirs. South Koreans want Korea to be united.

6. North Koreans think, what is currently with China (Manchuria a.k.a Third Korea) was theirs once. And, whatever China is giving to support North Korea, is actually something that China owes them for snatching their land. Including part of Mount Paektu. (You could read about these in my previous post here.)

Now, my opinions.

From China's point of view, it doesn't seem to have much friends. Those that are currently also, are in a love-hate relationship. This is not for all-weather friendships that one can depend on at times of war. If a troubled time-warped country like North Korea also doesn't stand by China, something is seriously wrong with the China's leadership. 

Interesting facet of this relationship is, looking back in time, how Thaek's execution set ball rolling for Korea to ring up Donald Trump's number to rattle Chinese. Xi seem to be having a very hot potato on his hand. You got to keep funding Kim Jong Un for his nuclear ambitions. Or, he'll side with Donald Trump & tanks would come rolling on the other side of Yalu River or Tumen River.

Looking back, it also makes sense why China was supportive of sanctions & de-nuclearization of North Korea. It is not in China's interest to have one more nuclear neighbor (after India & Russia. US is also based out of Japan & Taiwan.)

Last week, Kim Jong Un disappeared for a few days. Not many thought he'd even be alive. China panicked & even sent a team. Many theories floated around. Ultimately, it was supposedly to check if China is still interested in protecting him. And now it seems, per this report, Kim Jong Un was apparently faking it.

It is China which alienated Kim Jong Un. The North Koreans actually seems to have shown China what they could do, if not supported by China. Hence, ended up pitting China against US. More could be read here.

Things you can make from this:

a. It is a very complicated geography coupled with more complex history. Hence, it is usually radical out of box solutions that work.

b. Such solutions need strong leaders in both countries to accept the solution as it is.

c. Currently, such a leader is not in power in China, contrary to popular perception, Xi is actually weak when seen inside party politics.

d. If Xi is weak, who else? Well, that is something only time could answer. As of this minute, nobody knows when such leaders would come to the fore.

e. Forget global ambitions. China should get atleast a few all-weather friends. They seem to be acting selfish for a very long time & it is going to affect them sooner or later.

Remember one thing. Entire border of North Korea & China is divided by two rivers. Yalu & Tumen, which source from same source. A volcano. Ironically, also the water body is called Heaven Lake. Seems, jinxed right at the source.

I'd leave it at that, for your conclusion.