As regular readers of this site know, China is opposed to unilateral sanctions, except when it isn’t. In the case of North Korea, China is also opposed to the multilateral sanctions it voted for in the U.N. Security Council; consequently, North Korean missiles ride on Chinese trucks, North Korean proliferation networks operate openly on Chinese soil and launder their money through Chinese banks, North Korea’s weapons are made from components and technology procured from or through China, and those weapons are imported or exported through Chinese ports. North Korean abduction squads kidnap refugees and murder activists on Chinese territory, and North Korean spy rings operating inside South Korea meet in safe houses on the outskirts of Beijing.
China’s answer to these charges, as near as I can make sense of them, is that it only violates the sanctions it voted for because sanctions never work and it’s afraid they’ll work and it has no influence over North Korea anyway and also, it isn’t violating them. But China’s unilateral sanctions to disarm South Korea, which are clearly calculated to leave it prostrate to Pyongyang’s (and Beijing’s) blackmail, put the lie to all of this.
Thus, two weeks ago, I drew the unavoidable conclusion and advanced the inflammatory theory that China’s failure to reign in North Korea’s nuclear program might not be a failure at all. Perhaps North Korea’s nuclear program is a proxy for China to disarm, isolate, Finlandize, and control both Koreas. After all, one could excuse a few lapses in North Korea sanctions enforcement as oversights by a fundamentally corrupt state, but it isn’t plausible that the same people, front companies, and networks could have escaped the all-seeing eye of the world’s most efficiently intrusive surveillance state for decades. And now that Xi Jinping is revealed to have spoken the words that the peoples of Asia fear most — “part of China” — Koreans’ worst fears are confirmed. For the full interview, go here. Here is the quote in context:
But we had a really good meeting [with Chinese President Xi Jinping], and it was supposed to be 10 minute session and then you go into a room with hundreds of people, you know all different representatives, and the meeting was scheduled for 10 to 15 minutes, and it lasted for 3 hours. And then the second day we had another 10 minute meetings and that lasted for 2 hours. We had a — just a very good chemistry.
He then went into the history of China and Korea. Not North Korea, Korea. And you know, you’re talking about thousands of years …and many wars. And Korea actually used to be a part of China. And after listening for 10 minutes I realized that not — it’s not so easy. You know I felt pretty strongly that they have — that they had a tremendous power over China. I actually do think they do have an economic power, and they have certainly a border power to an extent, but they also — a lot of goods come in. But it’s not what you would think. It’s not what you would think. [WSJ]
If South Koreans are worried and outraged, both sentiments are well justified. The scars left by South Korea’s occupation by a certain other predatory neighbor are still raw and painful to South Koreans, and I would argue that the legacy of China’s influence over North Korea has been far worse than the legacy of Japan’s occupation — including war, famine, gulags, smothering thought control, and exploitation of women on a scale and severity comparable to Japan’s exploitation of wartime sex slaves.
In most news outlets, this story is being reported as a Trump faux-pas, which it certainly was to the extent Trump seemed to credit Xi’s imperialist narrative. But that is not the real story, because (1) the world already discounts Trump’s words in ways that it did not discount the words of other presidents, and (2) there are men and women in the White House who are smart enough to disabuse Trump of this nonsense, clean it up, and make the appropriate assurances to South Korea, despite that damage that has been done. Those assurances are going to be very, very important when we are three weeks out from an election in South Korea, when South Koreans are already wondering if we are still a reliable ally.
But in another sense, we should silently thank Donald Trump for (however unwittingly) telling us the real story, which the media seem to be missing entirely. The real story is that Xi Jinping just tipped his hand about his colonial ambitions to control all of Korea. Xi Jinping, after all, does not tweet. He does not ramble, muse, or offer idle, half-considered thoughts. He is nothing if not deliberate and calculating. He went to Mar-a-Lago with meticulously premeditated plans to influence the President of the United States in certain directions, to achieve a certain ambition.
The historically accurate truth is that Korea was never a “part” of China, but was a tributary nation under substantial Chinese influence or control for centuries. Put another way, there is no more historical basis to Xi’s claim than there is to the Northeast Asia Project or Xi’s claim that the South China Sea is a part of China now. Who believes that Xi Jinping will let either truth or law get in his way when he senses that the time has come to make his move? If I were living in South Korea, I’d want missile defense and nuclear weapons now more than ever. I’d also want a president with the greatest possible influence over the United States, and the backbone to stand up to Xi Jinping. In other words, I’d want a choice I don’t have — so I’d pick the lesser evil who can still win.