China Just Blinked In Korea

In the aftermath of the assassination of Kim Jong-un’s half-brother, Kim Jong-nam, and the brutal murder of several highly placed North Korean leaders, Kim Jong-un has signaled to his Chinese benefactors that he cares little for their opinion. You see, these people were associated with China. In fact, it was assumed that Kim Jong-nam was a potential replacement for the increasingly unstable Kim Jong-un. These developments come on the heels of a series of North Korean missile tests indicating that the North is intent on developing their long-range capabilities.

It is believed that within the next two years North Korea will have the requisite knowledge to launch missiles at the United States’ Pacific coastline. Under such conditions, the United States and the Republic of Korea (South Korea) are poised to conduct another round of their joint military drills. These drills are an annual exercise that tests the interoperability of American and South Korean forces in wartime conditions. Historically, these drills send the North Koreans into an unbridled rage.

In this morass, finally, the Chinese have stepped forward. They have offered to broker a deal whereby the United States and South Korea will not conduct the annual military exercises in exchange for China getting North Korea to abandon pursuit of its nuclear weapons. While it is clear that Kim Jong-un’s mania has finally caused China’s spine to stiffen, there is little doubt that this proposal is also the result of increasing uncertainty as to how the new Trump Administration will react to North Korea’s repeated provocations.

We should all be glad that China has at last decided to take its promise to rein in North Korea more seriously. Unfortunately for China, however, they ought to have been more solicitous of this promise sooner; at least a decade ago. Now, Chinese calls for a deal ring hollow. Where were they when the George W. Bush Administration allowed for the Six-Party Talks to spearhead the resolution of the North Korean nuclear situation? Where were the Chinese when the Kim Regime successfully tested a rudimentary nuclear weapon? Oh, that’s right: the Chinese were bankrolling the mad regime!

Are the Chinese really getting tougher on North Korea?

First, getting the United States and the South Koreans to stand down from a vital defensive exercise is not “getting tough” with North Korea. Should the Trump Administration take this diplomatic bait, all that will occur is the telegraphing to North Korea by the United States that it is not serious in protecting its interests on the Korean Peninsula. Kim Jong-un would thus be induced to perpetrate even more grandiose gestures against the West. The mere appearance of Chinese cooperation should not be enough to sway us.. There must be real movement.

Second, the Chinese may be setting the stage for a regime change in the North. But, don’t let this prospect go to your head: the Chinese are never going to support a unified, democratic Korean peninsula. More likely they are going to replace the manic Kim Jong-un with a Chinese stooge who will keep “stability” in the North-South dynamic (read, continue oppressing the North Koreans and threatening the South). That’s like replacing Adolf Hitler with Walter Ulbricht. Not much of an improvement, if you ask me (certainly not an improvement from Seoul’s perspective).

On top of not wanting a unified, democratic, pro-American Korean peninsula, the Chinese want to prevent a refugee wave from besieging their border. If a full-scale regime change followed on by unification were to take place, China’s border would become inundated with North Koreans fleeing the chaos. The Chinese view this as potentially destabilizing. Thus, the Chinese are very keen for another pro-China strongman to rule over North Korea.

As the great geopolitical analyst, Robert Kaplan points out in his book, Monsoon, the Korean conflict is the last vestige of the Cold War; it is a frozen conflict, from a forgotten war. The world—and especially the Korean people—needs to move on from this conflict.

Allowing the Chinese to resolve anything in this campaign will only lead to an entirely new set of security dilemmas for the United States. The Chinese long-term goals are to push the United States out of the Asia-Pacific entirely. We simply have too many interests in that region of the world to be seen yielding on this. Letting the Chinese take the lead in this area will not be conducive to America’s long-term interests.

To be fair, the Chinese overture is a positive sign that something constructive can be done. However, the Trump Administration must not take this deal at face value. The only path forward is for the United States to increase its presence on the Korean peninsula while encouraging both the South Koreans and the Japanese (the countries most threatened by North Korean brinkmanship) to expand their military capabilities. Indeed, the United States should encourage both Japan and South Korea to develop nuclear arsenals of their own, in much the same way that America allowed for Israel to develop its own arsenal. That would be the ultimate check against North Korea.

Also, the idea that the North will remain separated from the South, is absurd. The Koreans are a singular people. Whatever happens, the great powers of the world must ensure that the country remains unified under Seoul’s rule.

Of course, what I am talking about is not nation-building of the sort that pursued by the George W. Bush Administration in either Iraq or Afghanistan. I am talking about a concert of powers (the United States, China, South Korea, and North Korea, for instance) coordinating an equitable post-Kim Regime settlement. While the United States can—and should—assist its South Korean partners in any unification, the South must do the heavy-lifting on its own.

The United States should make clear that under any unification strategy, the Chinese would have a serious role to play. America must respect and address China’s own concerns about having a unified, democratic Korean peninsula along their border. Any attempt to cut China out of a unification settlement on the Korean Peninsula would doom Sino-American relations.

This recent Chinese overture must be understood as an opening bid, not a fait accompli. The U.S.-ROK military drill should continue lest China does something more meaningful. A comprehensive agreement for ending the North-South conflict that has torn Korea apart for decades must be forged. The Trump Administration should refuse to discontinue any joint military exercise (or do anything that might weaken the South Korean position) unless China gets the North to completely abandon its nuclear program. The North must also open itself up to U.S. weapons inspections. It must demilitarize. Furthermore, if the North does not open itself up to trade, then there will be no change in U.S.-South Korean military relations. Of course, the North will not make these changes—even if China were to change leaders in the North.

Make no mistake, China just blinked. America must take advantage of this. A unified Korean peninsula is the only long-term solution to this problem. China will have to recognize this. Otherwise, there will be a forcible reunification of Korea without Chinese input. This will not be salutary to China’s long-term strategic interests.

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About Brandon J. Weichert

Brandon J. Weichert is a contributing editor at American Greatness and a contributor at Asia Times . He is the author of Winning Space: How America Remains a Superpower and The Shadow War: Iran's Quest for Supremacy (Republic Book Publishers). Follow him on Twitter: @WeTheBrandon.

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15 responses to “China Just Blinked In Korea”

  1. What?? This makes absolutely no sense: He says the N K’s would never allow reunification….nor would China…. so he goes on to say we must work with China bla bla bla to bring about reunification…. WTF?

  2. Why wouldn’t the North trade under a ‘head’ imposed by China? I can see plenty of reasons why they’d want this.

  3. Why in the world would South Korea want to reunite with North Korea? That would be like taking in your violent, drunken brother, his trashy wife and their nine dumb, bratty kids into your three bedroom house. Did an intern write this?

  4. This sometimes assumes rationality where it isn’t justified. China may be a bit wary of Pyongyang but this “blink” really amounts to an ultimatum to the United States to abandon the ROK. It is hard to disagree with the proposition Japan and South Korea should be encouraged to expand militarily, but some of this is magical thinking.

  5. I remain unconvinced that China has any influence, they only behave as if they do. Mad Kim will do what he likes.

  6. A unified Korea in the American orbit would be a coup for us and an immense boon to the poor, deprived people of the North. But it is hard to see how this can be achieved without Chinese acquiescence. German unification became possible when the Soviet Union collapsed. But while China’s economy is reportedly fragile, it is still growing and supporting an expanded military and aggressive territorial ambitions.

    There is one chink in their armor, though, and that is trade. The United States is surely China’s biggest customer. President Trump might be uniquely able to poke the trade lever into that chink and press, hard. He has already made it abundantly clear he wants to bring American manufacturing home, and he is not happy with Chinese currency manipulation. What would happen to the Chinese economy if US trade were substantially reduced? Would the mere threat be enough to convince the Party leadership to let South Korea have the whole peninsula? I have no idea, but you can bet that if South Korea took over, there would be no exodus to the north. Indeed, a unified and wealthy Korea could easily become a huge market for China.

    Besides the stick of trade, President Trump could offer the carrot of de-militarizing a unified Korea—with no nukes, either. So let’s see what the Dealer in Chief can come up with.

    /Mr Lynn

    • Good points.
      I think after the Nam murder China finally realizes that they have lost all control of the North with madman Un. a real affront to China, but worse, the danger of the fallout (no pun intended) of a deranged ‘leader’ with nukes on their border has to be a huge worry.
      I can see a scenario where Korea is not unified (for the time being anyway) yet the peninsula is de-militarized (as you say), with China taking ‘control’ and remaking it into a 21st century ‘Vietnam’. There are advantages to that scenario for China.
      But overall, yes, it’s one big mess over there.

  7. If anyone is paying attention the Chinese have finally come to realize that the current leader of NK is a problem for everyone and must be removed. They are allowing their own people to speak against the nutball and their latest cutting off of buying NK coal is a sure sign there are things afoot. Also, the latest video of Kim’s half brother’s son in hiding tells me that they are going to allow a coup to occur with the young man in line for a leadership position with probably a pro Chinese military leader in charge of the transition to a more reasonable regime. This would be the solution that would work in everyone’s best interest. Leaving this maniac in power is a threat to us all.

    • Have though the same thing, seeing the video of Nam’s son.

  8. Only a complete idiot would write that replacing Adolf Hitler with Walter Ulbricht would “not [be] much of an improvement.”

  9. IF China agrees to help reunify Korea we can do the following: 1. Withdraw all US forces from Korea. 2. No Korean troops along the Chinese border (perhaps a 25-50 mile zone) 3. Korea and China sign a comprehensive trade agreement. 4.Korea will be nuclear-free.

  10. The poor confused, and completely brainwashed people of this Nork Personality cult run nation suddenly released from their overseers? Talk about a sudden refugee calamity of mega proportions. No, the Chinese probably understand the need for a “Benevolent Dictatorship” in the Norkland to take a few decades to bring these brain damaged lunatics back to their senses and make them productive and prosperous enough they will want to stay in their places. The Chinese have got something great in their mix of Political Communism and Capitalistic Business models. To export that into Norkland would be a fantastic way to resolve the problem.

  11. Article is about what should/must happen – and that is a unified, democratic Korea, which China would help establish. I missed the part that explained how or why any of this would happen.

  12. A unified Korea would drain South Korea of at least half of its wealth.