The past week has seen an intensification of the ongoing strife on the Korean peninsula that has not been this sharp since the two sides exchanged fire a couple of years ago. Still technically at war, this is one of the closest times that the two nations, neither of which recognizes the other’s statehood, have come to resuming the active combat that came to an end with an armistice in 1953.
While China is not going to abandon its long time ally, the circumstances of the region have changed immensely in a short span of time.
China is trying to create a new diplomatic scene in the Asia-Pacific region that would crown it the strongest power in the region.
While China is arguably already the strongest state in this area, the presence of the United States, which lends support and extends trade to a number of nations surrounding China, complicates this picture.
The Sino-American relationship has become the most important bilateral tie in the world. The United States and China are neither friends nor enemies.
That being said, each is also wary of the other’s intentions and does not want the other pushing the balance of power in this region too much in their favor.
This is why the Pentagon’s planned redeployment of so much of its overseas forces to the region is a concern to China, which wants to have undisputed military predominance of the area of the Pacific Ocean that is west of an invisible line drawn just east of Japan and around the Philippines. This expansion of what have been called “island chains” is planned to happen in two phases in the future.
While there are a number of East Asian countries that object to this, the biggest elephant in the room is the United States, which already has more than 70,000 soldiers deployed in Japan and South Korea alone.
The U.S. also maintains responsibility for defense of a number of island-nations. To add on an obvious fact, the U.S. will not want to be closed off from a region that is only becoming more important in global affairs.
All of this is why China will not abandon North Korea and why the latter most likely does not feel completely cut off. Despite the presence of massive sanctions, there are easy methods around them, one of which is simple lack of enforcement. What North Korea expects from China is added protection from outside aggression and supplies to keep the country’s fledgling economy going.
What China expects of North Korea is to not cause chaos as the economic priorities of China require a region that is moderately stable. China approved of these latest sanctions because the North did exactly the opposite and caused mayhem. A crisis on the Korean peninsula gains China nothing.
In fact, it gains everyone nothing. Although the North could inflict catastrophic damage to its southern neighbor, it would not be able to win a military conflict with the United States.
To add on to that, if the North were to start that conflict, China would not risk its international reputation by siding with what would be a suicidal regime whose only outside supporter is Dennis Rodman.
This is not the first and it will not be the last time that there is a threat of conflict on the Korean peninsula.
People will probably hear more about it as this region becomes more noticed in the American media. One of the most important focus points of this overall region will be the relationship of the United States and China.
The former will remain a strong presence in world affairs even though not the hegemony it has enjoyed for at least 20 years. The latter will continue to grow in strength.
While it would be naïve to consider these two nations to be friends or hope that they will become friends, they do not necessarily have to be enemies.
A wise ‘China policy,’ a large part of an overall ‘Asia-Pacific’ policy for a U.S. president is to maintain a position of strength help to ensure peace among its nations.