by Austin Bay
August 2, 2006
Don't ever cost the Chinese face -- do so and you'll be slapped
with UN economic sanctions.
Lost in last month's tsunami of war news was the UN Security
Council's decision to sanction North Korea for its ballistic missile
Despite years of pressure from the U.S. and Japan, China had
been reluctant to chastise North Korea, but Beijing was clearly surprised by
North Korea's July 5th missile volley. Saving face is important in every
human group -- "face" is particularly important in North Asia, in social
relationships and in diplomacy. The North Korean tantrum cost China a bit of
Chinese embarrassment cost North Korea the humiliation of
international economic sanctions.
Economic sanctions are crude weapons, but North Korea is in a
particularly crude financial and political situation. The U.S. contends
North Korea launders stolen money through corrupt banks in Macao (the
Chinese port formerly run by Portugal). Chinese cooperation also enhances
U.S. efforts to curb North Korea's counterfeiting operations. That's
right -- counterfeiting. Minting fake U.S. currency has been one of North
Korea's few profit centers.
The U.S. and Japan have proposed other economic penalties. Both
countries have already used anti-organized crime and anti-terror techniques
to thwart currency remittances to Pyongyang from North Koreans living
North Korea's Kim Jong-Il operates an extortion racket. The
North Korean totalitarian police state is a totalitarian crime state. The
criminal enterprises (counterfeiting, smuggling drugs) keep its Communist
elites in caviar.
While North Korea's clique trumpets the development of nuclear
weapons, over 2 million of its citizens suffer from malnutrition. North
Korea can build bombs and test missiles, but only international aid prevents
mass starvation. Given the dictator's ample paunch, it's a good bet Kim and
his elites eat well.
The number of North Koreans fleeing to north China from their
country-wide gulag has increased sharply. A Chinese army now sits on the
Korean border, tasked with stopping the refugees fleeing Kim. The refugee
issue is one reason, among many, to doubt China's long-term commitment to
supporting Kim's depraved junta.
In the past, North Korean bouts of international madness
occasionally served Beijing's strategic ends. Kim's Stalinist regime rattles
the U.S. and scares Japan. However, China and Russia now have extensive
trade relations with Japan and South Korea. The South Korean economic
powerhouse invests in China.
Japanese fear is producing changes in Japanese military
doctrine. No one in Asia wants a militarily resurgent Japan, particularly
But North Korea's ballistic missile barrage has ignited The
The Japanese government is now openly cooperating with the U.S.
on anti-ballistic missile defense, including the deployment of U.S.-made
Patriot Pac-3 anti-missile missiles to Okinawa.
Defense is one thing -- Japan's "Self-Defense Forces" are
designed to defend Japan. Offensive strike capability is something else
Last month, the London Times wrote that "Kim's adventures" had
radicalized Japanese opinion. "'The vast majority of Japanese agree that we
need to be able to carry out first strikes,' said Yoichi Shimada, a
professor of international relations at Fukui Prefectural University."
According to Shimada, Japan must "have an offensive missile capability."
Japan could have offensive missiles in a couple of months. For
that matter, Japan could produce a nuclear weapon within a few weeks.
Chinese and South Korean diplomats argue that North Korea's
regime may be crazy but it isn't suicidal. Firing a missile at Japan --
whether it has a nuke or not -- would be a suicidal act, and the diplomats
argue that won't happen. But Beijing and Seoul cannot guarantee North Korea
won't try to sell a nuclear device to terrorists, which is one of
Washington's central concerns.
Swap a nuke for a cool billion? Pyongyang's crooked track record
suggests Kim would do the deal.
Beijing has no interest in a nuclear-armed, U.S.-allied,
economically powerful and reunified Korea -- a little bulldog of a peninsula
on China's border. Propping up North Korea prevents reunification. Dropping
the North Korean props could be traded to Korean reunification if the
peninsula were politically neutral and nuclear-free.
Consider that a succinct look at "future diplomacy" -- if North
Asia succeeds in avoiding a Korean nuclear war in the dicey interim.