There were no North Korean missiles launched for nearly three months, until a new one went up on November 29
. China and the United States see this as a threat, but for very different reasons. The many missiles launched and another nuclear test in 2017 have not made life better for North Koreans, or the North Korean government. South Korea was another matter. China quietly lifted, at the end of October, most of the economic punishments it had at on South Korea because the South Koreans insisted on installing an American made THAAD anti-missile system. While China is backing off, the Chinese have made a point. The temporary interruption of trade with South Korea did not hurt China as much as it did South Korea and it really had no significant impact on the economies of either country. Meanwhile North Korea is visibly suffering from the increased sanctions that took effect in 2017. China wants Kim Jong Un to deal with the problem and not become a victim of it. The Kim clan does not seem to be paying attention.
At the same time China and the United States have different problems with North Korea. For the Americans the primary issue is North Korea building a credible ICBM armed with a working nuke. China believes (as do many Americans) that the North Korean ICBM threat is mainly for show and not quite rational. If the North Koreans did launch an ICBM against the Americans it would have to get past the dozens of GBI (Ground Based Interceptor) anti-missile missiles based silos at Fort Greely Alaska. This is a key component of the GMD (Ground-Based Midcourse Defense) anti-missile system in Alaska that protects North America from long range ballistic missiles from North Korea, China or Russia. Testing of the 22 ton GBI began in 2006 and 55 percent of the tests so far have been successful.
While much criticized in the United States, American anti-missile systems are well-respected in places like China and Russia. Patriot has been stopping ballistic missiles since the early 1990s and in the last two years has regularly knocked down North Korean and Iranian ballistic missiles used against Saudi Arabia. Other systems like Aegis, THAAD and GBI depend on realistic testing to impress. Aegis has done best, actually destroying low-orbit space satellite at one point. China sees American qualms about the North Korean missile threat as more media theater than rational analysis. At the same time China faces a more immediate threat from North Korea. There is the growing crime (often caused by armed North Korea troops in uniform) near the North Korean border as well as a growing number of unauthorized North Korean secret police operations in China, especially the northeast. With China the North Korean threat is rather absurdist (push us North Koreans too far and we will bleed all over you) but not as spectacular as nukes. The Chinese know (as do most senior North Korean officials) that actual use of nukes by North Korea (whether successful or not) means the end of the North Korea government and possibly much of the population as well. The traditional (and still quite popular) Chinese strategy is to try and make deals with enough members of the senior North Korean leadership to carry out a coup. Even if that does not succeed the growing paranoia among the senior leadership leads to weakening of the North Korean government as more key people flee or become ineffective lest they do something that is deemed treasonous. In this situation China is more exposed to damage than South Korea or Japan. In other words, the North Korean ICBM is more of a political prop than a military threat. But a collapse of the North Korean government and a flood of refugees heading for the largely unfortified Chinese border is a very real threat and not something the Chinese want to deal with. It would make the current Chinese leadership weak, not something that head of communist police state can afford.
Meanwhile North Korea has become more active with new smuggling and other illegal schemes to raise foreign currency. China knows this because, like most police states, the police have close (if not always cordial) connections with the criminal underground. The Chinese police have made it known that useful information on new North Korean scams would earn a larger rewards (including the prized “get out of jail free” one). Working with North Korea has long been profitable for Chinese gangsters in the northeast but now a lot of the usual methods no longer work and the North Koreans have been using riskier and less profitable scams to keep the foreign currency coming. Not all the Chinese gangs are getting in on this new stuff, often because the Chinese criminals (even the ethnic Korean ones) consider it too risky.
Unlike North Korea China tolerates most of the chatter on the Internet and in the streets. Anyone can monitor this and news of Chinese middlemen that depended on (and grew rich from) this illegal trade were in big trouble became widely known. The latest North Korean nuclear and missile tests have caused Chinese public opinion towards North Korea to become even more hostile. According to opinion polls North Korea has, over the last few years, turned come to be seen by Chinese as a larger military threat to China than the U.S. or anyone else. To deal with this China has increased the number of troops and border police stationed near the North Korean border and conducted more military exercises close to the border.
Russia has also agreed to strictly enforce the latest round of sanctions on North Korea, including the ones aimed at North Korean use of Russian and Chinese banks to avoid detection by sanction investigators. But considering the degree of corruption in Russia (compared to China, which is cracking down on corruption more effectively) it is believed North Korea has found ways to continue doing business via Russia. So far Russia, and foreign observers, have been reporting failed North Korean attempts to continue doing business via Russia. The problem is the North Koreans keep trying despite getting caught. This may be due to the fact that Russia is the only neighbor where North Korea has any chance at all of rebuilding smuggling networks. The Russian government tolerates this as long as their Chinese counterparts do not openly object.
China has a grand strategic economic plan involving Pakistan, Nepal and Burma and it’s unravelling. All three of these countries are pulling out of economic deals with China because the terms, as interpreted by China, are unacceptable. At the same time China has become the largest foreign investor in Iran (since sanctions were lifted in 2015) and most of these investment support Obor directly or indirectly. Thus in most cases Obor investments are seen as a positive (or potentially so) thing. The Iranians were long involved with running a large section of the original Silk Road and developed a reputation of being formidable negotiators. The Iranians don’t trust the Chinese and have made deals with India and Afghanistan to resurrect the ancient Iranian portion of the Silk Road and expand it a bit. This involves a new Iranian port on the Indian Ocean and a railroad and highway connection to Afghanistan and Central Asian railroads. Projects like this help keep the peace because they provide competition for projects like Obor, which are seen as an attempt to establish a cartel and then control trade and prices mainly to favor China. The Iranians deal with the Chinese as equals but many other Obor countries are deemed more exploitable by the Chinese and often, but not always, are.
For the last few years Chinese officials have been describing their economic and military expansion plan internally as Obor (One Belt, One Road). Earlier in 2017 China went public with Obor via a PR campaign that described it as a revival of the ancient “Silk Road.” That’s not accurate as the ancient Silk Road was only partially run by the Chinese. Most of it was operated by other major powers (Iranian, Indian, Turks and Arabs) and was largely put out of business after the 16th century by European innovations in ship building and management of sea routes that provided a safer and cheaper way to move goods worldwide. Moreover, until the late 20th century Chinese leaders never encouraged (and often banned) foreign trade. For most of Chinese history the leaders believed China had all it needed (largely true) and considered all non-Chinese and their products inferior. The big change now is that China needs international trade and Obor is the Chinese plan to control as much of it as possible. This is essential for a prosperous economy because without that the communists are in big trouble. Obor means China owning or otherwise controlling as many of the new roads, railways, ports, pipelines and sea routes as possible. China is investing nearly $200 billion in Obor construction. This includes land routes through Central Asia to Europe and the Middle East, another through the Himalaya Mountains to the Indian Ocean (soon to be under new management if China has its way) and new land connections into Southeast Asia. The key to China’s new sea routes is asserting ownership of the South China Sea. Pakistan, Nepal and Burma are all demanding renegotiation of terms and rejecting Chinese interpretations of some of the deals. For example China assumed that trade along the Obor would accept the Chinese yuan as an international currency similar to the dollar, yen or euro. Many nations are not ready for that and let the Chinese know that when China tried to implement its interpretation of how the yuan was to be treated.
Another feature of Obor is that it offers business relationships that are more acceptable (than Western ones) to most of the areas Obor is investing in. The Chinese can, as they like to put it, be more flexible and respectful of local customs. In other words the Chinese don’t see bribes and corruption as a defect but an opportunity. This is great for the foreign political and business leaders but less so with most of the others and this is causing problems. Africans and Asians living near many Chinese foreign operations complain that China is the major investor in illegal extraction of raw materials and keeping local gangsters and corrupt politicians in business. The Chinese also violate local labor laws with impunity and often hire their own armed security personnel who will shoot to kill if threatened by angry workers or local residents. Keeping local tyrants in power serves Chinese interests when it comes to things like establishing new military bases or preventing other nations from doing so. Corrupt locals also make it easier to carry out espionage operations (locally or in nearby areas). Helping to keep unelected leaders in power also serves to maintain the legitimacy of the current Chinese government which is basically a communist police state and the CCP (Chinese Communist Party) wants to keep it that way. All this is nothing new. For example once China got its seat in the UN back (from Taiwan) in 1971 it has been notorious for encouraging and using corrupt practices in the UN. Many nations play along and as China became wealthier they were willing and able to buy whatever they needed inside the UN. The latest example of this is how Chinese pressure has caused the UN to withdraw investigators (responding to local complaints of serious crimes) looking too closely at Chinese owned operations in Africa.
China and Pakistan are heavily publicizing the revival of this new Silk Road. In Pakistan the city of Peshawar, on the eastern end of the Khyber Pass, was a major gateway of the ancient Silk Road between China and the Middle East. But that version of the road went through the pass and into Afghanistan. The new Silk Road is not just Obor, in Pakistan it is officially called the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) and is a complex piece of work. In 2013 China agreed to spend $18 billion to build a road from Gwadar and into northwest China. This will require drilling long tunnels through the Himalayan Mountains on the border (in Pakistani controlled Kashmir.) The road and a natural gas pipeline are part of the $46 billion CPEC project. This will make it much easier and cheaper to move people, data (via fiber optic cables) and goods between China and Pakistan. China also gets a 40 year lease on much of the port facilities at Gwadar, which India fears will serve as a base for Chinese warships. This is how China would like all of Obor to be but the rest of the world does not always cooperate.
While Pakistan, Bangladesh and Burma regard China as an ally or, at the very least, nothing very menacing, India considers China its major military threat. The ten week stand off on the border at the Doklam plateau in mid-2017 led the Indian military to speed up the construction of new roads to the new military bases near the Chinese border in those areas where China claims large areas of India actually belong to China.
South China Sea
China appears to have succeeded in buying cooperation from the Philippines. The Filipino government is willing to accept all the legal gifts (aid, investment, loans) China offers in return for the Philippines not resisting Chinese claims in the South China Sea. Meanwhile the Chinese are openly moving more weapons to bases in the South China Sea as well as their main naval base in southern China (Hainan Island). Chinese officials admit that they are determined to get their way in the South China Sea but it is also the case that China prefers to buy what it wants rather than start a war over it. That is an ancient Chinese tradition that is currently giving a lot of popular and official support inside China.
China has been a major lender to Venezuela and has provided about $50 billion since 2007. Most of these loans are repaid with Venezuelan oil. The amount of oil owed China increases as the oil price declines, which means Venezuela has less oil to sell for current needs. But now Venezuela is officially bankrupt and that is causing losses for China, which was not unexpected. China feared that they might not see a lot of their loans repaid and demanded more oil instead. These losses mean little to China and are seen as a cost of establishing themselves in South America. Venezuela is not the only nation in South America where China is active.
November 30, 2017: China announced that they would conduct a joint anti-missile defense drill with Russia on December 11-16. The joint drill will use computer simulations and take place in China (which now leads the world in the number of supercomputers in service). The drill is to coordinate a response against a ballistic missile attack against either country from any direction.
China is also making the best of a bad situation in Burma. There Aung San Suu Kyi, who won international praise for her decades of efforts to get Burmese democracy restored in 2011 (with the removal of a military government) agrees with the Chinese pragmatism believes China is the best alternative (for investment and essential imports) if international economic sanctions are again imposed on Burma, as they were until the generals gave up some of their power and allowed the 2011 elections. Suu Kyi recently agreed to visit China for the third time to discuss economic matters. The Islamic world is demanding UN action against Burma. That is not going to happen as long as China backs Burma and China has recently made it clear that the support is still there. One obvious example was the recent agreement where China will invest over seven billion dollars in upgrading Kyauk Pyu port in Rakhine State and the Burmese government agreed to let China control (via 70 percent ownership of the new port facilities) of the upgraded port. China had wanted 85 percent but backed down because most Burmese wanted China to have much less control. Meanwhile the more the rest of the world pressures Burma on the Rohingya the more power the Burmese military gets back and the easier it is for China to make corrupt deals (which helped weaken the military before 2011) and restore ones that had been halted. It has become easier for China to establish itself as the primary source of weapons and military equipment in Burma.
November 29, 2017: North Korea carried out another ICBM test. This was successful and featured a new ICBM design (
Hwasong-15 or HS-15)
, one similar to the American Cold War era Atlas (the last U.S. liquid fueled ICBM). Atlas was retired as an ICBM in the late 1960s and many of the missiles were converted to satellite launchers. North Korea said their new HS-15 could reach all of the United States and that is true if it has a guidance system capable of handling that. But this missile test, the first in over two months, did not generate offers of surrender from South Korea, America and Japan but instead counter-threats. China expressed disappointment with North Korea. That is a traditional Chinese way of threatening retribution. Later in the day the U.S. openly (at the UN) called on China to cut off all remaining oil exports to North Korea. China began cutting oil exports to North Korea in 2013. When these cuts began China was the largest supplier (3.5 million barrels in 2012) and since then China cut all other forms of energy exports (natural gas, electricity and refined oil products). But North Korea is still getting 6,000 barrels a day of refined oil products and 10,000 barrels a day of oil for the only oil refinery in North Korea (near the Chinese border.) The cuts have hurt the North Korea economy and military capabilities but the North Koreans used more of their own resources (like coal) and gave the nuclear and ballistic missile programs top priority. China did not immediately respond to the American suggestion.
November 28, 2017: China put another of its Type 056 corvette/light frigate into service today. That makes two of them entering service in one month. Since the first one entered service in 2013 one of these ships has joined the navy every six weeks. So two in one month is not unusual, and it occurred the first time in January 2014. That followed the commissioning of eight 056s in 2013. By 2014 twenty were being built in four shipyards and all of these were in service by 2015. These 1,500 ton ships are playing a crucial role in Chinese efforts to seize control of the South China Sea. China has also exported the 056 to Nigeria (as a specialized coastal patrol ship) and Bangladesh (as a more heavily armed frigate). As many as sixty o56s are apparently planned with about 40 completed so far. China is also rapidly building more submarines, destroyers, frigates, amphibious ships and another carrier. Cold War era ships and aircraft are being rapidly retired and replaced with new designs.
In the southwest (Tibet) another Tibetan (a well-respected monk) set himself on fire to protest Chinese occupation of Tibet and attempts to suppress Tibetan culture. This is the fifth such death in 2017 and the 151st since 2009.
November 24, 2017: In the northeast the government was told by the North Koreans that the main bridge connecting North Korea with the Chinese city of Dandong would be closed temporarily for repairs. This Sino-Korean Friendship Bridge crosses the Yalu River and until recent sanctions carried about 70 percent of the North Korean imports and exports. The bridge was built by the Japanese and completed in 1943. It was heavily damaged a decade later during the Korean War and repairs were made. Since the 1980s repairs have been less frequent and thorough. A 2010 project to build a new bridge are stalled because of corruption and mismanagement, mainly by the North Koreans.
November 23, 2017: In northeast Africa (Djibouti) Chinese marines held a training exercise near the new Chinese naval base. With the marines were at least two ZTL-11 amphibious artillery vehicles. These amphibious armored vehicles first appeared in late 2016 and were another variant of its ZBD/ZBL 8x8 wheeled armored vehicle. The ZTL-11 is armed with a 105mm gun which is used to assist marines during beach or other assault operations. ZTL-11 appears to be a modified ZBL 09 infantry vehicle for the Chinese Marines. Photos have appeared of these vehicles painted in the distinctive colors of the Chinese marine vehicles. This confirms older rumors that the Chinese marines were going to get modern amphibious armored vehicles. Unlike the U.S. Marines (and many American allies), who use armored vehicles designed specifically for amphibious units, the Chinese are simply modifying an existing amphibious armored vehicle.
The Chinese Navy established its first base outside of China in 2016 in Djibouti, which lies astride the narrow waterway that is the entrance to the Red Sea and at the north end is the Suez Canal. Chinese seaborne trade is a heavy user of the Suez Canal. The Chinese base was declared operational in August 2017 and at least a dozen ZBL armored vehicles were seen there for use by the security force. China does not want access to the canal interrupted by pirates or anything else. One thing that helped get the government to agree to the Djibouti naval base was the air base that Japan opened there in 2011. This was the first overseas Japanese military base since World War II. This was part of the Japanese contribution to the international anti-piracy effort off Somalia. About 200 Japanese troops were stationed at the base.
November 20, 2017: China openly rejected recent Pakistani accusations that India was making a major effort (costing $500 million) to sabotage the $55 billion China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) that crosses much of Pakistan (from Pakistani Kashmir to Baluchistan). China has been blunt with Pakistan about Islamic terrorism inside Pakistan and its possible impact on CPEC. Apparently China has told Pakistan to keep this violence away from CPEC and no excuses (like “it’s an Indian conspiracy”). Pakistan, especially the military, has long blamed most of the Islamic terrorist violence inside Pakistan on India and other outsiders (like Israel). China insists that Pakistan be realistic about protecting CPEC from Islamic terrorism and not try and get China to support Pakistani fantasies. China knows where the Islamic terrorism coming from (the Pakistani military) and is willing to keep quiet about that as long as the Chinese CPEC investment and Chinese working on it in Pakistan are left alone.
November 19, 2017: Four Chinese H-6K bombers and two electronic intelligence gathering aircraft flew more than a thousand kilometers out to sea and close to Okinawa. This has been happening since late 2015 and the incidents are photographed by Japanese aircraft. The first time, in 2015, was apparently an effort to demonstrate the Chinese capability to hit targets far from the Chinese mainland, especially American bases in Okinawa and Guam.
China proposed a solution for the Rohingya violence in Burma that consisted of a ceasefire in Burma (no more violence against Rohingya), allowing Bangladesh to send Rohingya back to Burma and negotiations to settle the Rohingya nationality problem once and for all. The Chinese proposal was largely a gesture and ignores the fact that the violence is instigated by Burmese Buddhist religious leaders and that most of the refugees do not want to go back to Burma. Finally there is the problem of identification. Since Burmese Rohingya are not recognized as citizens of Burma by Burma most have little or no official ID that can prove they came from Burma. Of course they have a unique (to Burma) accent and detailed memories of where they lived in Burma but this sort of thing has never gained much international recognition as acceptable ID.
November 15, 2017: China donated $22 million to help rebuild the Filipino city of Marawi and loaned the government over $200 million for infrastructure projects. China is also helping with drug addict rehabilitation. More such generosity is forthcoming if the Philippines backs off on resisting Chinese claims in the South China Sea.
November 14, 2017: China has completed development and testing for its DF-41 ICBM (intercontinental ballistic missile), the first one that can reach all of the United States. The latest test launch, tie eighth, was considered a success and mass production and deployment will finally commence in early 2018. The DF-41 had a lot of development problems because few were built or tested during more than a decade of development. China needed a replacement for its Cold War era DF-5s, which are liquid fueled and the considerable activity required to ready them for launch can be detected by spy satellites. The solid fuel DF-41s can be moved, erected, and launched from a special truck and railroad cars as well as silos. With a 15,000 kilometer range they can reach all of the United States and carry multiple warheads each with an explosive yield of at least 100 KT. The DF-41s appear similar to the American 36 ton Minuteman III (a 1960s design that has been much upgraded since then). In 2012 China tested the DF-41 ICBM equipped with a final stage containing multiple warheads for the first time. The U.S. announced the test and had apparently monitored it with satellites and other air, land, and sea based sensors. It was not revealed how many warheads were involved, although it was earlier mentioned that China could put 3-10 warheads in the DF-41 final stage. The DF-41 has not been displayed publicly until recently but thanks to cell phone there were photos of the DF-41 available for over five years.
In late 2015 China conducted a test of the new rail-mobile version of the DF-41 ICBM. This test involved the use of a cold launch system. This involves igniting the rocket motor after the missile is ejected from its launch tube with a gas charge. This means the launcher is not damaged by the rocket motor blast and can be reused. In this case the test ensured that the missile tube launch system, originally designed for road vehicles, also worked on a rail car. Moreover this test is a significant milestone for Chinese strategic arsenal because their biggest and most powerful nuclear missile can be now launched from a rail mobile and very hard to find platform.
In late 2016 China moved some of their ICBM silos to the Russian border. The state controlled Russia media insisted there was nothing to worry about because these silos were apparently intended for new missiles (the DF-41) which had a minimum range of 3,000 kilometers, which means they could not be used against targets in the Russian Far East. More astute Russians observed that China could not win a nuclear exchange with the U.S. but could against Russia. And China would not want to nuke the Far East, they want to take control and fill the place with Chinese. Those DF-41s are well placed to blast Russian nukes and ICBMs far to the west. For many Russians China is seen as the only real threat to Russia and any Chinese move out there is nervously discussed in the Russian media (to calm people down) and privately (to discuss what is really happening on the Pacific coast). Since 2012 China increased spending on infrastructure in border areas of the Russian Far East (areas near the Pacific Ocean) to make it easier for Chinese businessmen to operate. This supports the rapid growth of Chinese trade in the thinly populated Far East and stirs (or confirms) Russian fears that Chinese businesses will take over the economy out there. The Chinese have done this before, over the centuries, with other neighbors. Chinese today are well aware of that and know that once you control the economy it’s a lot easier to annex the area to China. Meanwhile Russia continues to have problems getting Russians to move to the Far East and stay there. Communist and czarist governments also had this problem and the inability to solve it makes it easier for the Chinese to take over.
November 12, 2017: In a rare move the U.S. Navy has assembled three carrier task force off Korea. These will begin four days of joint maneuvers with South Korean warships on the 14th. The Americans only concentrate this much naval power when there is a major crisis. The assembled force includes 13 ships equipped with the Aegis defense system, two of them South Korean. The American warships then trained separately with Japanese naval forces. For political reasons it is still not acceptable for South Korean and Japanese warships to train together.
November 11, 2017: The leaders of China and the Philippines met and agreed to settle the South China Sea disputes via negotiations. In other words the Philippines is willing to discuss how much China will pay the Philippines in order to settle this matter. The Chinese may seek more than just the Philippines abandoning disputed islands. China could ask the Philippines to abandon military alliances with the United States and other nations in the region that have disputes with China. That would cost China a lot more and might be impossible to get approved by the Filipino legislature.
November 10, 2017: Government officials have been ordered to get all Chinese to put a picture of recently elevated supreme leader Xi Jinping in their homes or business (if they own or run one). In areas with a lot of religious Chinese local officials were encouraged to be creative. As a result Christians, who often have religious pictures in the homes) were asked to replace some or all of those with pictures of Xi Jinping The local CCP (Chinese Communist Party) office will supply some free. CCP members who practice religion are expected to encourage this. Technically, CCP members are not allowed to belong to any traditional religion (communism is not considered one despite the similarities) but enforcement is generally lax unless you belong to a group that is considered anti-Chinese. That automatically means Moslems and especially non-Han members of the CCP who are still going to a mosque. This often led to simply expelling those found to be Moslems and still active at a mosque. Christians are increasingly considered guilty of dangerous (to CCP rule) thoughts and expected to be more loyal to the CCP to dispel these suspicions. There is a growing list of things (like Islam and the Internet) that disturbs the communist government in China. The scariest trend is the increasing number of Communist Party members who are secretly (or openly) becoming religious and believers in capitalism. That is a trend among Chinese in general. Even religions (like Islam, Christianity and Falun Gong) that are increasingly persecuted, continue to grow. Communist true believers are still recovering from the 2001 decision to allow businessmen to become Communist Party members. Now, to see party members attending religious services and celebrating alternatives to socialism is, if nothing else, bad for morale at the highest levels of the party. But the CCP adapts to survive and earlier in 2017 that meant prohibiting the use of Islamic veils (that conceal the face) in public as well as “excessive” beards and other items worn or carried by conservative Moslems. There was no definition of what excessive was. It was also illegal to refuse to watch state run TV or listen to radio. Many conservative Moslems have TVs and radios but only use them for religious material. Individual towns and cities in Xinjiang have already enacted bans like this but now it is province-wide. This new Xinjiang provincial law basically bans practices seen as purely Islamic. In early April police began searching the homes of some Moslems, looking for the now forbidden items. That now includes anything that points to a CCP member being a Moslem.
November 7, 2017: China has banned all Chinese tourists from the North Korean capital. This leaves only day trips to the North Korea border town of Sinuiju, which is just opposite Dandong, a Chinese city where most Chinese tourists depart from. Tourism has earned North Korea about $50 million a year in foreign currency but 80 percent of the tourists are Chinese and now most of that business has been cut since it is the multi-day trips that provide most of the foreign currency spending.
November 4, 2017: Chinese oil imports declined again in October to a 13 month low. At the same time Russia continued (for the eighth straight month) to be the largest single supplier, providing 1.09 million BPD (barrels per day). The second (and normally first) largest supplier was Saudi Arabia, with 1.08 million BPD. China resumed importing oil from the U.S. in late 2016 and is now getting about 207,000 BPD.
November 3, 2017: Senior North Korean officials who have escaped from North Korea in the past year or so seem to agree that one the greatest vulnerabilities of North Korea is China suddenly halting its cooperation with North Korea to make life difficult for North Koreans who escape into China. Most of these North Koreans would prefer to move through China to somewhere else, preferably South Korea or the West. China knows this and has occasionally lifted their curbs on North Korean illegal migrants. This is done only briefly to maintain some control over North Korea. Thus China has not lifted these travel restrictions for long periods. These former North Korean officials point out that lifting the curbs would make it much easier for more people like themselves to get out. But China appears to want those North Koreans to stay where they are in case China has to stage a coup and install a more pro-China government. Such a coup is very risky, especially with North Korea building nuclear weapons. But that also makes such a coup more likely if China decided it has no choice but to shut down the Kim dynasty.
November 1, 2017: China arrested two North Korean agents who had apparently been sent to China to assassinate Kim Han Sol, the 22 year old nephew of Kim Jong Un and son of Kim Jong Nam, the older (45 at his death) brother of Kim Jong Un. The North Korean ruler had
Kim Jong Nam
assassinated in Malaysia earlier in 2017. It is unclear what is going on with the latest murder plot. Most North Koreans believed that it was shameful for a brother to murder his older brother, especially when the elder brother was not a real threat to the younger one. All the older brother wanted to do was get out of North Korea, which is what most North Koreans want to do. Thus the details of what happened to the older brother was big news in North Korea, even if it could only be discussed in whispers. Many North Koreans were not surprised that the older brother was murdered in Malaysia on February 14th using droplets of VX nerve gas. North Koreans are amazed at the lengths the younger brother has gone to try and suppress the details and get the body back to North Korea where it could be destroyed. Most North Koreans saw Kim Jong Nam as the tragic victim of a paranoid and vicious younger brother, who happens to be the hereditary ruler of North Korea. Kim Jong Un
apparently unsure how this w
all work out. Kim Jong Nam
and his family
been living in China since 2002 because his father lost faith in his ability to become the next Kim to rule North Korea. This break became official in 2003. Kim Jong Nam was seen as too independent minded and undisciplined for the job. The Chinese quietly granted Kim Jong Nam sanctuary (and citizenship), and blocked any North Korean attempts to get him back or kill him in China.
October 31, 2017: In the northeast, just across the North Korean border some 200 North Korean soldiers and family members are being treated for radiation poisoning at the Punggye-ri nuclear facility. Chinese radiation monitors on the North Korean border recorded levels were up seven percent a week after the September 3rd test and were apparently much higher in North Korea. This data was released because the population along the border know that they face some health risks if radiation levels increase too much for too long. Earlier in October there was a tunnel construction accident in Mantapsan Mountain near Punggye-ri. A hundred workers were trapped but they died, along with about a hundred tunnel workers sent to rescue them when a second collapse occurred. This all makes the nuclear weapons program appear to be a threat to North Koreans as well.
October 30, 2017: In the northwest (Xinjiang province) police completed searching 30,000 homes of ethnic Kazakh Chinese citizens. The police were looking for illegal religious items. Earlier in 2017 the government ordered all non-Han Moslems to turn in all copies of the Koran and all prayer mats. About 1.5 million ethnic Kazakh Chinese live in Xinjiang near the border with Kazakhstan, which will probably not complain (at least officially) at the treatment its fellow Kazakhs in China are receiving. This includes a June incident where ten Chinese Kazakhs were arrested in Xinjiang and accused of working with Chinese Uighurs suspected of Islamic terrorist activities. Many of the Chinese Kazakh families moved to China in the last few decades and were allowed to settle near the border if they were loyal to China.
Since the 1990s China has been more of a presence here because Kazakhstan and the other former Soviet stans of Central Asia (Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan) wanted someone to help with the economy and discourage the Russians from trying to dominate the region like they have done since the 19th century. The stans were very receptive to Chinese diplomatic and economic cooperation. This bothered Russia, but not to the extent that threats were made, as was the case with the former Russian possessions to the west (like Ukraine). The stans also have a problem with never having been democracies. When the Russians conquered them in the 19th century the local governments were monarchies or tribes. When the Soviet Union collapsed in 1991, locals who were former Soviet officials held elections and manipulated the vote to get themselves elected "president for life." But many people in the Stans want clean government and democracy, as well as continued independence from Russia. China is no help with that because the Chinese prefer dictators. But China does offer more economic opportunities and protection from what happened to Ukraine and Georgia.
In Xinjiang most of these extreme security measures have been mainly directed at Uighur, Kazakh and Kyrgyz Moslems. China is planning to introduce a new translation of the Koran for use in China. This version will apparently have pro-terrorism or anti-government passages removed and the indications are that the new version will be largely ignored by Chinese Moslems. In response to that government censors are also blocking access to online versions of the Koran and arresting Islamic clerics who offer Koran lessons online. In some parts of the province the government has banned the use of local languages (mainly Turkic ones like Uighur and Kazakh) for use in schools.
China has become obsessed about suppressing any Islamic terrorism based in China. The reports from Iraq indicate that this has been successful so far, which was why so many Chinese Moslems showed up among the ISIL (Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant) dead and captured in Iraq. But it was also revealed that many of those Chinese Moslems who had survived the collapse of the Islamic state in Iraq and Syria were planning on going back to China and establish Islamic terrorist groups there. Because of that China has increased scrutiny on Chinese Moslems returning from abroad and imposing more restrictions on where they can travel to when they do leave the country.