Observations of an ex pat: China at the crossroads

China is at a political crossroads with a nuclear-tipped Mack truck driven by a suicidal North Korean juvenile threatening to plough into its side with disastrous consequences for Beijing and the rest of the world,

President Xi Jinping can avoid the crash. It is not inevitable. But to do so requires a major change of direction in Chinese foreign policy—with some help from America

Korea’s 38th Parallel is the Asian relic of the Cold War. It is also a highly visible and symbolic border which determines whether China or the United States is the major 21st century power in the Asia-Pacific region.

It was China that saved North Korea from defeat at the hands of the American-led UN forces in the early 1950s. It was China that signed a mutual defence treaty with North Korea in 1961 and it is China that provides the food and energy that enables the hereditary communist country to continue oppressing its 25 million citizens and threatening the world with nuclear holocaust.

Why? Not because of any love for Kim Jong-un or his ancestors or because North Korea is communist.

China supports North Korea because it knows that without Chinese support the Kim family business would collapse and American troops would—it believes– move from the 38th Parallel to the banks of the Yalu River and the border with China. This would be a major loss of face for Beijing and be a major blow to its bid for Asian dominance.

Chinese communism has its roots in the battle against Western Imperialism and American postwar hegemony is seen as its logical extension and the network of American military alliances and trade agreements is viewed as a thinly viled attempt to contain the Chinese dragon.

“Asia for the Asians,” President Xi has repeatedly said. Of course an Asia for the Asians would be an Asia dominated by Asia’s most populous, prosperous and militarily powerful country—China.

Chinese support for North Korea was logical in the 50s, 60s and even the 70s when China pursued an extreme form isolationist communist. But when Deng Xiaopeng shifted China onto the capitalist road the Chinese and North Korean routes began to diverge.

China now has a major stake in the maintenance of the present world order. For a start, the United States owes Beijing more than a trillion dollars. In Beijing’s eyes, American has become “too big to fail.”

But at the same time its history has left it tied to a legacy of anti-Americanism and propping up North Korea is viewed inside and outside of China as an integral part of that policy.

Of course, successive American administrations have made it difficult for Beijing to shift from its anti-American stand. Washington’s various alliances since 1949 have indeed been a clear attempt to contain China in the same way that America’s policies in Europe were an attempt to contain the Soviet Union. And as for Obama’s proposed Trans Pacific Partnership, well, Chinese exclusion only confirmed Beijing’s views.

President Xi can stop the crash. He can tighten the squeeze by refusing food and energy supplies to North Korea. He could even renege on the 1961 Mutual Defence Treaty as it contains a clause which commits both parties to pursue policies which maintain peace and security on the Korean Peninsula, which North Korea is clearly failing to do.

But to make the right choice the Chinese leader wants Washington to share power with Beijing in Asia Pacific. The US has refused to show willingness to do so, and Donald Trump less likely than his predecessors to be willing to do so.

It is clear that Pyongyang and Washington are indulging in dangerous brinkmanship. So are Beijing and Washington.

* Journalist Tom Arms is vice-chairman and secretary of Tooting Liberal Democrats and a regular contributor to Lib Dem Voice.

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This entry was posted in Op-eds.


  • Richard Underhill 1st May '17 - 8:58am

    The political legitimacy of the Chinese government rests on military success in the late 1940s. Even the USSR used to pretend to have general elections. China has not yet decided what to do about Mao. Mao amalgamated the defeated Nationalist army into the communist army and put them into the Korean war in order to get them killed.

  • Steve Trevethan 1st May '17 - 10:04am

    Thank you for the article.
    Perhaps the USA, with or without “allies”, has not attacked North Korea, wrecked it and kept it wrecked, as it has Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya etc., is because it has nuclear weapons.
    Perhaps the following statistics may be of relevance when considering North Korean attitudes and even ours.
    During W W 2 , the UK lost 0.94% of its population, France lost 1.35%, China lost 1.89% and the US lost 0.32%. During the Korean War the DPRK lost more than 25% of its population.
    “We killed of – what – twenty per cent of the population. We burned down every town in North Korea… [General Curtis Lemay who coordinated the bombing campaign 1950-1953]
    [Please see current Global Research for full article.]

  • nvelope2003 1st May '17 - 11:48am

    Korea had been occupied by Japan since 1910 and was divided between the Soviet Union and the United States at the 38 parallel, after the defeat of Japan in 1945. Separate Governments were established in the North and the South. Soviet and US troops were withdrawn in 1948/49. The North Korean Army attacked South Korea on 25th June 1950 and conquered most of the country, except for a small area in the South East. UN troop, mostly US but including British troops, drove the North Koreans up to the border with China but were then driven back by the Chinese. The war was ferocious until a truce was agreed and fighting ended on 27th July 1953.

    Many people assume that North Korea was attacked but this is not so and the conduct on all sides was extremely brutal and involved vast destruction of people and property. The South Korean Government was not very popular and had itself suppressed popular revolts but it did not invade the North in the first instance

    Communism seems to have been largely abandoned by the North Korean Government but the Chinese are not going to hand the North over to the US so it has to be maintained and what better way to do it than support the people at the top who have a vested interest in keeping it going and are prepared to use any means to do so – a bit like President Assad in Syria is for the Russians.

  • Simon Banks 1st May '17 - 8:48pm

    Re Steve’s comments – South Korea suffered huge losses too in a war which was launched by the North. In Europe, Polish losses were comparable. Poland and Germany now get on very well and so do their peoples.

    I do absolutely agree with Tom’s comments about the need for the US to accept sharing power in the Pacific with China. As for Asian domination, though, India can’t be forgotten.

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