The U.S. and China: Why the Sudden Convergence on North Korea?

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mini nuke north korea

It was no coincidence that America’s 11-ton bunker-tunnel busting bomb was deployed in Afghanistan as tensions mount over North Korea’s nuclear threats.

In the past, China resisted U.S. saber-rattling against North Korea. Now China is threatening North Korea with military action. What’s going on? Why the sudden convergence of U.S.-China threats of military force against North Korea?

China Threatens To Bomb North Korea’s Nuclear Facilities If It Crosses Beijing’s “Bottom Line”.

China also noted that “nuclear weapons is DPRK’s trump card for its defiance of China and the United States. Once this card is lost, it will become obedient immediately.”

The author then speculated rhetorically that if North Korea’s “nuclear facilities are destroyed, they will not even fight back, but probably block the news to fool its domestic people. The DPRK will freak out if its nuclear facilities are destroyed.” And yes, a Chinese author said “freak out.”

The report also said that “the DPRK must not fall into the turmoil to send a large number of refugees, it is not allowed to have a government that is hostile against China on the other side of the Yalu River, and the US military must not push forward its forces to the Yalu River.”

For context, here is a satellite photo of the Korean peninsula: note the black hole devoid of lighting. That’s North Korea.

The difference between North Korea and South Korea is mostly political. Stalinist North Korea has starved its people for decades to support a vast war machine, and kept them ignorant of the broader world. This is slowly changing as smugglers do a brisk and highly dangerous business in banned DVDs and other digital media:

How media smuggling took hold in North Korea (PBS)

Can Smuggled TV Shows Change North Korea? (NY Times)

South Korea’s economy is larger (by some measures) than the economies of nations such as Spain, Australia, Mexico and Russia. South Korea is not just a formidable economic power; it fields a powerful military and has global “soft power” via its media and investment reach. It also has substantial trade with China.

South Korea is a powerhouse, North Korea is a rogue state that has starved millions of its citizens to death and threatens to spark a nuclear war that could impact China very negatively, even if China avoids military conflict.

Which state would you rather be responsible for protecting? Which one is an asset and which is a costly, risky liability? The answer is obvious to all.

To understand the China-North Korea client state relationship, we have to start with the 1950s-era Cold War and the Hot War in Korea 1950-1953. Threatened by the Cold War American presence in South Korea, China viewed North Korea as an essential buffer against invasion from the south.

When allied Western forces occupied virtually all of North Korea in the Korean War, China’s army crossed the Yalu River to force a return to the pre-war border between North and South Korea.

China’s supreme leader Chairman Mao Zedong took the threat of land invasion so seriously that he ordered (at enormous expense) the relocation of critical industrial plants from coastal areas into the hinterlands, the better to distance them from invasion.

China has effectively subsidized and supported the North Korean state for the past 70 years as a buffer against a land invasion from South Korea. China supplies North Korea with fossil fuels and other essentials and protects it diplomatically.

But does this buffer-state strategy make sense in today’s world? The threat is now from nuclear missiles and trade wars, not a land invasion. Though we cannot know what’s being discussed or decided behind close doors, the high cost of subsidizing a rogue nuclear state for the now-irrelevant value of a physical buffer may finally be weighing on Chinese decision-makers.

Then there’s the all-important matter of “face”. The perception of status, influence and power–what’s known as “face”–is the core concern in East-Asian societies. “Losing face” by being revealed as powerless and lacking influence is to be avoided at all costs.

Western analysts often under-estimate the importance of maintaining or recovering lost “face” in Asian decision-making.

Consider how much “face” China is losing in being unable to control its rogue client state, North Korea. China is quite keen on projecting itself as a rising global power, and the dominant power in Asia and the adjacent seas.

So how does it look when a supposed global power can’t even control a client state on its own border? China’s inability to influence, much less control, North Korea’s nuclear ambitions and threats gives the lie to its claim of global power.

Even worse, China–the supposed hegemon of Asia–must stand by as the U.S. sails in to deal with China’s rogue client state. In terms of “face,” this drama is telegraphing that the global power is the U.S., not China, which has been reduced to bystander in the stand-off over North Korea’s nuclear threats.

Imagine if the roles were reversed and China had to send its fleet to the Caribbean to deal with a rogue client state of America’s, that America could not control or contain. The loss of face is immense.

It was no coincidence that America’s 11-ton bunker-tunnel busting bomb was deployed in Afghanistan as tensions mount over North Korea’s nuclear threats. The Chinese newspaper report excerpted above noted that the Chinese military knows the location of North Korea’s nuclear facilities, but disabling those deeply buried facilities without resorting to nuclear weapons may be beyond China’s military capabilities.

So China loses face again: not only can it not control North Korea’s nuclear ambitions, it doesn’t have the non-nuclear means to destroy them.

In the context of face being lost as China’s inability to control or contain its client state is revealed to all, China has no choice but step in before the U.S. acts unilaterally. In terms of saving face, it would be better to force North Korean compliance before the risk of a nuclear exchange escalates, and China may be signaling North Korea that its patience has finally run out.

China’s leadership may have finally concluded that supporting and protecting a costly, rogue-nuclear buffer state is actually reducing China’s security and rather than enhancing it. It may be time, at long last, for China to engage in its own version of “regime change” as a necessary step to maintaining China’s own security.

From this point of view, the entire drama of American threats of military action may be designed to force China to finally step up and take whatever action is necessary to control its rogue client state.

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Contributed by Charles Hugh Smith of Of Two Minds.

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  • American troops wouldn’t need to be in Afghanistan if the CIA’s opium poppies didn’t need to be defended from the Taliban, which virtually eradicated them during our last brief exit from the country. If the new drug czar wants to stop drugs from entering the country, perhaps he should put the CIA director in jail.
    If South Korea’s military is so powerful, why do we have to provide it’s defense?

    • Erik Denning

      Always with Mossad. How are you able to find time from your responsibilities to reveal all these secrets about how the world really runs.
      Remember to wash your own dishes, son.

      • I don’t have any relatives, personal commitments, debts, or a job.
        I don’t have any dishes, eating out of the cookery.
        I have plenty of time to reveal secrets because I don’t have a television or smartphone. Of course, since I don’t have to plow through a deep pile of fake news or mindless social media, it is very easy to parse the truth from the chaff.

    • Sceptic

      The main cultivator and beneficiary of opium in Afghanistan.
      was and is the Taliban
      This upsets Iran as they are the main route out and have gained a heap of addicts
      Opium has been a major source of income for the Taliban. They went from opponents years ago to proponents and partners when they realized how much money they could make and how much they needed to continue their war

      • Which explains why the Taliban almost eradicated the opium crop when American troops were briefly removed for a few months several years ago. As Pat Tillman discovered, and was murdered before he could spread the word, the primary mission of American troops in Afghanistan is to protect the CIA’s opium poppy crop. The Taliban’s mission, vis a vis the crop, is eradication. If the opium poppies were to be eliminated, the Taliban would move to eliminating the American occupation, which is for the specific purpose of protecting the crop.
        The Taliban doesn’t get any proceeds from the crop, it being a CIA project, and them not an agent, like Osama bin Laden was.

  • The author uses the word ‘rogue’ way too many times to be unbiased.
    Definition – Operating outside normal or desirable controls.
    Sounds like anyone which does not OBEY is considered ‘rogue’.
    Fear is an interesting thing to watch.

  • SirRobinRanAway

    CHARLES HUGH SMITH(author of this trash)..have you ever been to North Korea?

    Waiting….

  • SP_88

    Kim Jong Un might be a mentally unstable and paranoid dictator, but I bet that most of his reason for manufacturing nuclear weapons is because he is paranoid of what the United States will do to him. I’m sure that he’s seen our actions in other countries like Iraq, Ukraine and Libya, to name a few. Things didn’t end well for the leaders of those countries. He must know that we could do the same thing to him.
    Since apparently the United States is the global police department, it’s become our job to take out the bad guys who are running these “rogue” nations.
    And of course we, the taxpayers, are on the hook for the cost of all this war, and the interest on it.
    The real reason for all this regime change is so they can run oil pipelines and make money. I’m not sure if their reason for wanting to attack North Korea has anything to do with making money, but I certainly have doubts about whatever their claimed reasons are.
    I don’t trust the government no matter what they say. If they told me the sky was blue, I would run outside and check.

    • Lindajhoke

      Managing director of Google!, is explaining to users to start off “Work at home” method, that People have been doing for about one year now. These days alone, I generated close to $36,000 until now with no more than my home computer as well as some spare time, despite that i have a fulltime 9 to 5 job. Even everyone not used to this, can make $89/per h easily and the earnings can go even higher over time… This is how i started
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    • Loisdreplogle

      Managing director of Google!, is explaining to users to start off “Work at home” method, that People have been doing for about one year now. These days alone, I generated close to $36,000 until now with no more than my home computer as well as some spare time, despite that i have a fulltime 9 to 5 job. Even everyone not used to this, can make $89/per h easily and the earnings can go even higher over time… This is how i started
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  • Dow Jones

    China is playing USSA for the chump that Trump is using their pet Fat Boy in Pyongyang as bait. Korea remembers all to well (as does China) the millions slaughtered by USSA’S last bout of genocide there. It frankly aint gonna happen again without USSA paying a high price it will never forget. China knows that the Pentacon mob are simply using the Korean pretext to close in on the militarized “resorts” in the South China Sea which China will NEVER abandon even if it finally has to confront the not so great Satan sooner rather than later. Chump is a big mouth but totally stupid he doesn’t appear to be, even as his ill named “armada” sails into the mouth of the dragon.

    This will prove to be the biggest back down USSA ever scraped itself into and all the 50 million dollah bangs on Chinese credit in the wilderness of Afghanistan will not impress Mr Dragon or Fat Boy one little bit. Start WW3 Trump or go back to playing your I$I$ cards.

    • Erik Denning

      I get it! USSA!!! LOL

      • Just an average joe

        I get it too! Call the USA the USSA how original! Then read the post and you can tell it came from someone who is either a tool for Russia or China or graduated Berkley University. I laugh at it though, it does become very entertaining. As far as genocide goes why not just study the Korean war and see why it’s still a mess.

        • The only problem is that the USSA came into existence before most of today’s people’s republics.

  • We need to get out of all foreign conflicts and focus on our own citizenry.

    The (((U.S.))) and (((China))): Why The (((Sudden Convergence))) on North Korea?

  • Guido FL

    Time for Trump to clean up 25 years of others kicking this can down the road ? Or perhaps S. Korea needs to step up it’s game and get serious about this threat or is it to late for that ???

  • Roy Hobs

    I wouldn’t be surprised if N. Korea was just a ‘back lot’ for a Hollywood studio.

    • Erik Denning

      Are stupid or hallucinating?

    • M.A.S.H. was shot in California.