Friday, May 09, 2014

My Thoughts around the Purported Chinese Contingency Plans for North Korean Collapse

…as leaked through a Kyodo wire that touched off a flurry of reports worldwide.

I am convinced of the authenticity of the plan; not so much its authority. Kyodo can produce some sketchy wires, but it has been around in Beijing too long to be taken in by a total fake. And people would be arrested for espionage/treason by now if the proper authorities hadn’t given a go-ahead. Besides, they—as well as South Korea, the United States and possibly even Japan—must have drafted contingency plans a couple of decades ago, when everyone thought/feared that North Korea would collapse under the weight of its economic woes. It wouldn’t hurt to update those plans from time to time. That said, you don’t know if this is the one and only legitimate plan certified by the CCP Central Committee, just one of multiple scenarios being drafted by a PLA think tank, or something in between.

What is the point of the leak? My guess is that it’s a reminder to the Kim Jong Un regime that China holds the lifeline to its survival, most likely a warning not to go ahead with a nuclear warhead test as feared. If I had to make a guess one way or the other, I would say that the North Koreans will take heed, although I have no confidence one way or the other.

Is a collapse imminent? It doesn’t look like it, but you know what they say about authoritarian/totalitarian regimes: The harder they come, the harder they fall. And it’s awfully hard to see it coming.

And the dangers of a sudden collapse? There’ll be much to do, such as managing the logistics of preventing a humanitarian disaster, avoiding armed conflict between all the players domestic and foreign, and securing control over the nuclear facilities and more generally the North Korean military. Ideally, China, South Korea and the United States would have protocols in place so that they will be able to work with each other, or at least not get in each other’s way. I’m afraid that’s probably not the case.

Japan does have some worries, such as an influx of refugees and wayward nuclear warhead or two. But the former is limited by the number of seaworthy North Korean boats, which would be swiftly impounded on arrival here, while the latter threat lacks a meaningful motive and a reliable weapons system. There will certainly be a huge bill to pay, but the Japanese government would already have had to pay at least a trillion yen or more in the event of normalized relations; this way, it would only have to pay once. 

No comments: