Saturday, August 12, 2017

China to North Korea: If you strike the US we will not protect you. China to US: We will not allow a first strike or regime change.

The Washington Post reports that China warns North Korea: You’re on your own if you go after the United States. That’s only the first half of the story. I’ll get to the second half in a moment.

China has repeatedly warned both Washington and Pyongyang not to do anything that raises tensions or causes instability on the Korean Peninsula, and strongly reiterated that idea Friday.

The Global Times newspaper is not an official mouthpiece of the Communist Party, but in this case its editorial probably does reflect government policy, experts said.

In an editorial, the Global Times said China should make it clear to both sides: “when their actions jeopardize China’s interests, China will respond with a firm hand.”

So here are both parts of the Washington Post’s story referenced above.

  • Point #1: “China should also make clear that if North Korea launches missiles that threaten U.S. soil first and the U.S. retaliates, China will stay neutral,” [the Global Times] added.
  • Point #2: “If the U.S. and South Korea carry out strikes and try to overthrow the North Korean regime and change the political pattern of the Korean Peninsula, China will prevent them from doing so.”

Here is (some of) the rest of the story

The paper’s comments reflect the 1961 Sino-North Korean Treaty of Friendship, Cooperation, and Mutual Assistance, which obliges China to intervene if North Korea is subject to unprovoked aggression — but not necessarily if Pyongyang starts a war.

“The key point is in the first half of the sentence; China opposes North Korea testing missiles in the waters around Guam,” said Cheng Xiaohe, a North Korea expert at Renmin University of China in Beijing.

China has become deeply frustrated with the regime in Pyongyang, and genuinely wants to see a denuclearized Korean Peninsula. But it has always refused to do anything that might destabilize or topple a regime which has long been both ally and buffer state.

That’s because Beijing does not want to see a unified Korean state allied to the United States on its border: Indeed, hundreds of thousands of Chinese soldiers died during the 1950–53 Korean War to prevent that from happening.

… experts said debate is underway behind the scenes in China about its support for the North Korean regime.

In an article on the Financial Times China website in May, for example, Tong Zhiwei, a law professor at the East China University of Political Science and Law in Shanghai, argued that China should make terminating the 1961 treaty a near-term diplomatic goal, because North Korea, also known as the DPRK, had used it as cover to develop its nuclear program and avoid punishment.

That, he wrote, was not in China’s interests.

“In the past 57 years, the treaty has strongly protected the security of the DPRK and peace on the Korean Peninsula, but it has also been used by the North Korean authorities to protect their international wrongful acts from punishment,” he wrote.

If I were sitting at a negotiating table, I would try to qualify China’s first point resulting in a modified proposal.

  • Point #1: “China should also make clear that if North Korea launches missiles that threaten U.S. soil or that of its allies first and the U.S. retaliates, China will stay neutral,” it added.
  • Point #2: “If the U.S. and South Korea carry out strikes and try to overthrow the North Korean regime and change the political pattern of the Korean Peninsula, China will prevent them from doing so.”

So in my modified proposal China gets protection for its ally and we get protection for ours.

China does seem interested in ratcheting down the rhetoric. In statements that seem directed at President Trump’s bellicose language China urges U.S. to stop hurling threats at North Korea.

If China’s two points carry any validity, Trump’s advisors should be doing everything possible to make sure that he does not screw this up.

North Korea has the bomb. We should get used to it.

Implicit in what’s said here so far is that North Korea would be admitted to be now a nuclear nation. Hoping for NK to give up the weapons they think deter aggression from the US is only that - a hope. For more on this see John Cassidy’s essay in the New Yorker in which he asks Is It Time to Accept the Reality of a Nuclear-Armed North Korea?

One line of thought is that military solutions might be “locked and loaded” but to use them as a preemptive strike would be catastrophic.

On Friday morning, Trump tweeted, “Military solutions are now fully in place,locked and loaded,should North Korea act unwisely.” But, in truth, there is no straightforward military option. If there were one, a previous President might have used it, or, at least, threatened to use it. “Mr Kim’s bombs and missile-launchers are scattered and well hidden,” an editorial in this week’s Economist points out. “America’s armed forces, for all their might, cannot reliably neutralise the North Korean nuclear threat before Mr Kim has a chance to retaliate.” Even if a U.S. strike did take out Kim’s nuclear weapons, his forces have thousands of artillery pieces trained on Seoul, a city of ten million people located only thirty-five miles from the border with the North. Retaliation with these conventional weapons could kill tens of thousands of people. Not for nothing did James Mattis, the Secretary of Defense, say in May that a war with North Korea would be catastrophic. (On Thursday, Mattis repeated the warning.)

“This young guy leading North Korea will not denuclearize, period,” Kathy Moon, a professor of Asian studies at Wellesley College and a nonresident fellow at the Brookings Institution, said earlier this week in an interview with WBUR, a Boston-based public-radio station. “What the U.S. faces is a problem between North Korean capabilities and intentions, and an anachronistic, outdated U.S. policy-strategy called denuclearization. The North doesn’t want to talk as long as denuclearization is on the table and is the goal of the United States. We need to really think hard and face the reality and suck it up—that this is a fully nuclear state. We don’t have to say, ‘Hey, welcome to the nuclear club.’ But we could work towards arms control and disarmament, which is a different framework, which acknowledges that it is a nuclear state, and try to get some diplomatic headway on that level.” This is similar to what Michael Hayden, the former director of both the C.I.A. and the National Security Agency, told my colleague Robin Wright this week. Any diplomatic solution to the situation, he said, “will have to, in one way or another, concede North Korea’s nuclear status. No other deal is possible.”

We are left with “the least bad option there is left.”

Treating North Korea as another rival nuclear power would involve using the tools the U.S. has employed for decades to deal with such adversaries: containment, deterrence, and measures designed to lower the risk of a small incident escalating into an all-out confrontation. It might be the least bad option there is left. “If military action is reckless and diplomacy insufficient, the only remaining option is to deter and contain Mr Kim,” the editorial in The Economist argues. “Mr Trump should make clear—in a scripted speech, not a tweet or via his secretary of state—that America is not about to start a war, nuclear or conventional. However, he should reaffirm that a nuclear attack by North Korea on America or one of its allies will immediately be matched. Mr Kim cares about his own skin. He enjoys the life of a dissolute deity, living in a palace and with the power to kill or bed any of his subjects. If he were to unleash a nuclear weapon, he would lose his luxuries and his life. So would his cronies. That means they can be deterred.”

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