News today that the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea has successfully tested a nuclear device. This third test, again using plutonium, employed a smaller and lighter device than in previous iterations, yet it produced a yield roughly twice that of the 2009 test. It is increasingly obvious that the DPRK is closing in on a warhead-sized weapon that can be melded with the long-range ICBM program that is developing apace under Kim Jong-Un.
The bright side would seem to be the universal condemnation of the DPRK nuclear test, and seemingly strong diplomatic language, even from China, regarding the most recent test. However, with closer scrutiny, I am exceedingly skeptical of China’s supposedly sincere denunciation of the North Korea test. When the history of China’s benevolent protection of North Korea is examined in detail, it becomes strikingly clear that such protection includes both encouragement and material and technical assistance.
Peking has deliberately and unabashedly thwarted each and every opportunity to contain North Korea. The Chinese refused outright to live by UNSC Resolutions 1718 and 1874. China continues her arms sales to Pyongyang, and her large economic (read: financial) aid to Kim’s government. China aided materially in the testing of long-range ballistic missiles, even as Chinese officials publicly condemned the tests. China provided launch platforms, and likely technical assistance, to include guidance technology (thank you LORAL, Bill Clinton, and Ron Brown). The People’s Republic of China undoubtedly provided technical assistance to North Korea for a series of cyber intrusions in the United States and the Republic of Korea. China publicly rebuffed US Secretary of State Clinton while ignoring the evidence of North Korean guilt in the sinking of the ROK corvette Cheonan, with the loss of 46 ROK sailors. A short time later, China refused to condemn DPRK for the unprovoked artillery strike inside ROK sovereign territory which killed four and wounded 50. China’s only comment was a demand for ROK “restraint”, and the condemnation of “escalation”, which Chinese comments clearly indicated would be blamed on the South and the US.
This latest nuclear test is no surprise to China. China’s faux-outrage and seemingly strong reproof of the Kim Jong-Un regime is pure dinner theater, crafted and promulgated for the consumption of her Asia neighbors, the United States, and the world community. But believe none of it, not a single word, nor a drop of the sentiment it supposedly conveys. China has for sixty years understood the strategic value of an abjectly hostile and militarily capable North Korea behaving in a seemingly unpredictable manner. This is especially true in the last four years, as US military power shrinks, and the US Navy in particular finds itself in an increasingly less favorable combat ratio in the western Pacific.
Platitudes about Peking wanting to be partners in maintaining stability in Asia are so much diplomatic flattery. As of this moment and in this region, China is unquestionably an adversary, providing assistance, diplomatic cover, and military protection for a sworn and aggressive enemy with nascent nuclear capability and seemingly little restraint. The DPRK is a criminal regime, brutally oppressive, engaged in narcotics and currency counterfeit activity, responsible for shipments of arms and WMD technology to Hamas and Hezbollah, and possibly Iran. But North Korea is what it is, and acts as it does, because China gives it a free hand to do so. If we are going to deal meaningfully with North Korea in defense of our ally in the South, we must acknowledge that fact.
If we hope to counter China’s not-so benevolent rise in the Pacific, we must not just acknowledge China’s ambitions, but plan and act accordingly. Sequestration, which embraces the gutting of American military power for the symbolic but miniscule impact on rampant national debt, is the foolhardy artifice of bumbling foreign policy and national security amateurs. But that is fodder for another post.