It seems like whenever I click on some news somebody is always talking North Korea, and their nuclear ambitions. It seems like everybody is ready for World War III to start on the Korean Peninsula. It seems like nobody is taking the time to realize that nothing is going to change.
That's right, there will be no nuclear war, no reunification, just more of the same status-quo that has persisted for the last 56 years. This is just another big scare that will inevitably blow over, and things will continue on as they are.
Sure, the North seems to have nuclear capabilities (maybe), and long range missiles (definitely) which seem like quite the game changer, but we can't forget the ultimate x-factor, and biggest benefactor from the way that things are, China.
Allow me to give a quick overview of East Asian geopolitics. The unquestioned forces are Japan and China, which are currently the 2nd and 3rd largest economies in the world, respectively (although they will probably flip by the end of the year). China has a very large military, and while Japan does not have any forces of their own, they have near unquestioned support of the Americans. Japan and China have long been distrustful of the other, and have been at war with each other several times in their history, most notably during WWII. Conveniently, between the two nations, there is the Korean Peninsula. This was divided at the conclusion of the Second World War, with the southern half being in the US sphere of influence, and the Northern half being in the Soviet sphere of influence. North Korea quickly became a reclusive state, relying on itself, and only itself, with the South has grown into a very vibrant economy and has served as a model for development in Asia.
While the South has been culturally closer to Japan, in recent years it's economy has been getting closer to China's. According to John Pomfret's blog on the Washington Post "Why China Won't Do More With North Korea" (the inspiration for this post), he mentions that China is South Korea's largest trading partner. While this may seem surprising, let me tell you from the inside that there are a LOT of very wealthy Korean companies doing business in China. Almost forty percent of the students at the international school that I currently work at are Korean and those kids do not come from poverty.
This huge amount of money pouring into the PRC is helping fund the current economic boom, and China needs to keep it that way. Obviously a thermonuclear war in a country that has so much investment in China is not in their best economic interests. So they will do nothing to help empower the North in a horrible to "reclaim" the South.
All of this Korean money is flowing into China because, quite frankly, there is not much else for them to develop in their own country. However, should the North collapse a massive humanitarian and economic undertaking would ensue. The North would need to be developed in a bad, bad way which would trigger require a flow of capital and efforts from companies like Samsung and Dae Woo, which are currently doing business in China. Given the current economic climate, it is likely that any of those companies would need to contract elsewhere in order to set up shop in North Korea, which would probably mean a lot of them would move out of China. China can not let this happen, certainly not while their economy continues to benefit from Korean involvment in the country.
Also, should the North fall and the Peninsula become unified, there is the pesky question of the ethnic Koreans living in the Chinese Northeast. A huge swell in Korean nationalism would no doubt catalyze the notion that those people should join their reunified homeland. Jilin and Liaoning provinces both have sizeable Korean populations, and should they ever get vocal about their land leaving China, then the PRC has large problems on its hand. They already have enough seperatist regions to deal with, why add another one? Especially one that would have Japan and America's sympathy? Jilin in particular has a great deal of national resources, notably iron, coal, and oil, which an industrializing nation like China certainly needs and could not afford to jeopordize.
China is in a clear case of "damned if we do" with very little "damned if we don't". This can only lead us to one conclusion, we're going to get more of the same, so you can crawl out of the bomb shelter.
Until next time,