China: Those Troublesome Koreans

China: Those Troublesome Koreans, by James Dunnigan.

China is increasingly angry at Koreans in general for not showing sufficient respect. The biggest (and growing) problem is North Korea. China wants a stable communist dictatorship in North Korea, not a failed government that would send several million starving refugees fleeing across the border.

China also does not want North Korea to collapse and get absorbed by South Korea. That would put a democracy on China’s border and give many Chinese a view of how things might be much better with a different political system in China. Koreans are seen as “younger brothers” to China, and it’s embarrassing if the younger brother outdoes his older sibling. South Korean democracy is played down in China, but that would be difficult if a democratic, united, Korea were right on the border. …

At the moment the Chinese are concentrating on persuading North Korea to drop its nuclear weapons program, which is seen as aimed at China as well as South Korea, Japan and the United States. The Chinese don’t mind if the North Koreans extract a high price from South Korea, Japan and America for this, as long as the nukes are gone, and stay gone. Again, failure to comply may lead to more energetic action against Kim dynasty rule. …

All the neighbors (especially China and South Korea) want North Korea to stay independent, and harmless. Thus China is willing to unofficially annex North Korea, knowing that the South Koreans would go along with this as long as the fiction of North Korean independence was maintained. South Korea won’t admit this, but most South Koreans know that absorbing North Korea would put a big dent in South Korean living standards. That is more unpopular than any other outcome. While all Koreans would like a united Korea, far fewer are willing to pay the price. …

South Korea has also been a troublesome younger brother. Since early 2017 China has increased its economic pressure on South Korea to cancel deployment of THAAD anti-missile missiles. Throughout 2016 the economic pressure was not working out so but that is changing as China ordered (“suggested”) in early March that Chinese tourists avoid South Korea. That had an immediate impact because most Chinese (who account for about half the tourist traffic in South Korea) obeyed and stayed away. Normally a quarter of South Korean exports go to China and as the losses pile up more South Koreans feel the impact personally. … The Chinese intimidation campaign went into high gear after China suspended discussions on joint defense matters in early November 2016 because South Korea made it clear it would not, under any circumstances, abandon plans to install American THAAD anti-missile systems. …

China wants Korea to behave more like the other neighbors. Cambodia, Burma, Thailand and the Philippines take the Chinese money and behave. Why can’t the Koreans? Chinese expect the Japanese (who are believed to be part Korean) to be stubborn and troublesome but the Koreans should know better. Apparently not.