by Daniel Carter
Last week, North Korean leader Kim Jong-un shocked the world by coming together to talk about a peace treaty with the Western ally and leader of South Korea, Moon Jae-in. This was a surprising move by the North Koreans considering the fact that they were threatening the US with nuclear missile strikes only months ago. Back then, it seemed like a conflict between the US and North Korea was only a matter of time. So, what changed?
Many of Trump’s supporters are giving him credit for bringing Kim Jong-un to the table. They say Trump’s tough talk scared the North Korean leader into seeking peace instead of a war with the US. While Trump may have played a small role, I find this very hard to believe. Kim acted amused at Trump’s threats just a few months ago.
The institution with the most leverage over North Korea is not the US government or Trump; it’s the Chinese government. After the Soviet Union collapsed, China has taken the responsibility of almost single-handedly propping up the North Korean regime. This is to ensure that there is a buffer between the US-backed South Korea and China. China provides North Korea with the large majority of their food and energy, which accounts for more than 90% of North Korea’s total trade volume.
When the US demands something of North Korea, Kim Jong-un laughs, as we have seen in the recent past. When China demands something of North Korea, they are forced to comply. China could change the regime almost immediately by starving the country of necessary supplies. The only leverage the US has would be costly military expeditions.
So, the next logical question is: “Why does China want North Korea to make peace with South Korea and the US?” It could be that China wants to avoid a refugee crisis. If the US were to invade, millions of North Koreans would be displaced. This means millions of low-skilled, non-Chinese speaking people would immediately flood into China. We’ve seen how ugly of a situation that can be from the refugees flooding into Western Europe.
In my opinion, the most important reason that China wants North Korea to cooperate is to avoid a war with the US. China (and Russia) will do everything in their power to prevent the US from occupying North Korea. China is currently setting up to be the number one superpower in the world, and they don’t want US troops on their border to interfere with that goal. China and Russia have made it clear that they will both go to war with the US if they decide to invade North Korea. Therefore, China may be instructing North Korea to get along with South Korea and the US to avoid that conflict.
This news has come along at the same time tension between the US and Russia heat up in Syria. Could Korean peace talks be China’s way of deflecting attention away from the Korean Peninsula? If Russia were to fight the US, the US would be greatly weakened whether they won or not. This would make it easier for China to defeat the US later on. This is a similar strategy to the one the US used in WWII. They let Germany and the Soviets fight while they waited. When the time was right, the US stepped in and claimed a much easier victory.
There is surely a high-level game of chess being played by the world’s superpowers. The peace talks seem good for now but could also be part of China’s long-term strategy. Peace talks have taken place in the past but have fallen through. Are the peace talks for real this time? What is China’s goal here? Only time will tell, but I have a feeling we will know for sure within the months and years ahead.