North Korea: is China gambling at the expense of US’ and its allies’ security?

Perhaps theorists should not be concerned about China as a current destabilising power but they have to be rattled over North Korean deadlocked nuclear issue. The country commenced its nuclear program since the Soviet era of 1960s. Over many years Kim dynasty could reach the point of being a country with nukes. The government of North Korea has stated multiple times about being reluctant to give up its nuclear programs and freeze them. This comes after tough and long negations over nukes.
At present, the relationship between US and North Korea is experiencing more than some bumps. North Korea has warned over its intentions of pre-emptive strike to the US and its allies if they will threat the existence of its regime, and it has conducted several missile tests some in the exclusive economic zone of Japan (US ally). Consequently, the two countries were many times at loggerheads, especially since Trump became president.
The aggressive behaviour of North Korea has raised security issues of the US and its allies at the top of their security agenda. In other words, the US and its Asian allies’ security is at stake. Since his presidential campaign Donald J. Trump has announced his solution about the North Korean issue. That is to use US economic leverage to put pressure on China to deal with North Korea (http://www.independent.co.uk/news/world/americas/us-politics/north-korea-nuclear-missile-us-mainland-strike-hit-defence-intelligence-chief-lieutenant-general-a7755691.html). If not the US will solve the issue in its own way. China has reportedly asked the US and North Korea to restrain from any potential conflict. Moreover, China rejected North Korean coal ships in order to discipline Pyongyang. Also, at the official level China showed its anxiety about North Korean nuclear programs and missile tests (http://www.aljazeera.com/news/2017/05/north-korea-testing-nuclear-weapons-170504072226461.html). This all sounds good. However, one controversial question has always touched my thinking about the current trajectory of North Korean nuclear issue. Does China want to see a North Korea as it is under Kim Jong-un? I personally think that it is “yes” and “no”. It is “yes” because China won’t like to see a united Korea with American values such as democracy, free media outlets, and capitalist economy. The American values can pose a real threat to China’s non-democratic system. This keeps the Chinese alerted.

Additionally, as mainstream theories of IR – realism and liberalism – argue the international system is anarchic and the states try to survive and get more power. This can be the case with China. Having the current North Korea exerting threat to the US and its Asian allies can serve as a political tool for China to weaken and keep under a constant threat the US and its allies. This may sound like a conspiracy theory, but remember it is an anarchic system and countries strive for survival at the expense of others. Though, it is a paradox because North Korea is a shared security threat for the US and its Asian friends. This effectively means that the shared nuclear threat may act as an incentive for having even stronger alliance. Of course, it won’t be welcomed by China. Transcending the paradox requires patience and time.

Finally, the answer is “no” to the question stated previously because North Korea can be a potential threat to China as well. The US will prefer to develop the conflict in East Asia rather than wait until North Korea gets the capability of hitting its mainland with nukes. Subsequently, North Korea is a regional and may be a global threat. At least, it is considered as a rogue state. A potential conflict or war in that region will cause refugee crisis pretty much like the Syrian refugee crisis. Those millions of refugees will go to where? Make a guess. Undoubtedly, to China as they share border and the South Korean border is closed. It is not easy to tackle the issue of refugees because they put pressure on a state’s capacity and resources.

Moreover, the war especially, the nuclear war is not beneficial for China as it may have a direct negative impact on its economic development and growth. It may perish Chinese long term economic programs. Reigniting a new war in the region can also be a source of direct conflict between the US and China, meaning that the world will lose rather a particular country. The next article will be devoted to the topic of the US and the Middle East.

Taron Pipoyan
1st year undergraduate in ‘World Politics’
Department of Political Economy
taron.pipoyan@kcl.ac.uk

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