Troubles in North Asia

Apparently, Nth Korea has just exploded a nuclear weapon. Not good. I think John Howard gave the appropriate response when he said:

“We are outraged that a country that has to rely on the international community to feed its own people, and to bring them back from the brink of starvation, devotes so many of its scarce resources to missiles and nuclear weapons progress”

That a nuclear Nth Korea is a problem is universally agreed. What to do about it is another matter. The complicating factor is that Nth Korea’s one million troops and artillary could easily overwhelm and destroy Seoul before major powers could get into the fight.

The country most worried about a nuclear Nth Korea is Japan — a country with relatively bad relations with all of it’s neighbours and America’s best friend in the area. In turn, China and Sth Korea fear that a nuclear Nth Korea will give Japan an excuse to pursue it’s own nuclear project, or at least to expand it’s military options.

Given the mounting tensions between Japan and China for economic dominance in the region, the growing military strength of China and Nth Korea’s bomb, there is a possibility of a Japan-China arms race and an Asian Cold War. There is little love between the two big Asian powers, with China still upset about past war-crimes and Japan unhappy about being lectured on human rights by an oppressive dictatorship.

While this is worrying, I think that any China-Japan rivalry is manageable as their economies are becoming increasingly reliant on each other and a growing Chinese middle-class will eventually start to demand (and receive) greater human and political rights. A democratic China will be a better neighbour than the ultra-nationalist “Communist” (sic) version.

But it is harder to be optimistic about Nth Korea. They are already isolated and there is no middle class. It seems that the only solution is regime change. The vulnerability of Seoul, current over-extention of the American military and unwillingness of China & Russia make a direct attack difficult to justify. Ideas anyone?

39 thoughts on “Troubles in North Asia

  1. “growing Chinese middle-class will eventually start to demand (and receive) greater human and political rights”

    How confident can we be that that process is not going to be a very ugly and violent one?

  2. “a growing Chinese middle-class will eventually start to demand (and receive) greater human and political rights”

    How confident can we be that that process is not going to be a very ugly and violent one?

  3. It seems that the only solution is regime change.

    Why not try trading with them? There have been economic sanctions against North Korea for decades with no regime change. Perhaps a relaxed attitude to trade might make the population more pragmatic and embolden them in the face of a more general restriction on freedoms. In effect we dish out a second helping of punishment to the people for having a bad government. And trade seems to have improved prospects in China.

  4. There is no need to get too hysterical about the North Koreans. They have just about played their last card (or whatever the expression is), and really have nowhere else to go now.

    What they are interested in is some extortion — trade is not really an option given they are a mind-bogglingly backward communist relic. They may have alienated everyone to the extent that they will not be able to park their nuclear ambitions in exchange for some oil and infrastructure support anymore, but I doubt it. And with the US otherwise engaged, military action is not an option.

    Ultimately, this particular rogue state, while a periodically acute geopolitical problem, is not the main threat to pacific peace. The big risk remains the rise of China, who – despite any growing middle class – is likely to remain communist (it is not currently “ultra nationalist” by any measure) into the future. It does, however, retain understandable territorial ambitions with respect to Taiwan.

  5. BotanyWhig — in what way is the Chinese government not nationalist? They certainly play on their national wars and national history and foster nationalism among their people.

  6. I never really understood what people ment when they talked about invading Iraq for oil. But with North Korea firing missiles around every couple of years, Im starting to wonder why the US has so much patience all of a sudden. As far as I can tell, the justification for invading Iraq applies ten-fold to North Korea. Is it a proximity issue?

  7. John, no doubt the Chinese government tries to inculcate a sense of national pride and patriotism in its people. That is all part of discarding one’s third-world baggage and emerging as a bona fide world power; China is, of course, a very old nation that can boast of many achievements. I would characterise “ultra-nationalism”, however, as being associated with militarism, belligerence and xenophobia: I do not believe it is fair to accuse the Chinese leadership of promoting these vices at all.

    Paul, I think the USA has avoided invading N Korea because they are concerned they would not win. Even if they had Korea as a staging post (which would not be a certainty), the northern communists have enough heavy artillery pointed at Seoul to flatten it long before allied troops could get anywhere near Pyongyang – and that is assuming they were able to pierce the heavily fortified border in reasonable time.

    The north do not want for soldiers or conventional military hardware, though their lack of oil does militate against an actual invasion of the south. Which is probably why everyone has historically seen it as in their interests to leave the whole thing well alone.

    And, aside from some tougher sanctions, I can’t see that changing.

  8. Assassination? Regime change?

    How amusing.

    Much encouraged by the stunning success of neocon policies in the Middle East, their acolytes are calling “encore! encore!”

    BotanyWhig outlines problems and opportunities. The rest of you owe it to your shattered reputations and to the relief of others to be a little bit sensible.

    NoKo is a deep-seated carbuncle. Excision is dangerous in a very crowded part of the world. Quite apart from anything else, the Chinese would not take kindly to US troops breasting their frontier with NoKo. Don’t forget that China is a major funder of the increasingly unwieldy US national debt. Libertarians should know better than anyone else that money talks.

    All carbuncles eventually come to a head, just like the Soviet Union in 1991. The regime fell without a shot being fired. The people went out into the streets and the Communist Party at the local level told their superiors that the current state of affairs was untenable.

    NoKo is still far away from anything like that happening. But time is on the side of freedom. NoKo has no fifth column anywhere in the world. The regime can easliy be loved to death with aid, trade, engagement, cultural exchange, anything that gives the people of NoKo some insight into what they are missing out on. When the time is right, they’ll do the rest.

    In the meantime, out of common decency, neocon acolytes ought to take a vow of silence.

  9. Katz — who are you talking to? I opposed both the war in Afghanistan and the war in Iraq. I did so quite loudly and was published in the free-market journal Policy saying that the Iraq war was a massive failure of public policy. I can’t see how I can seriously be called a “neocon” or how my reputation has been shattered. Apology?

    You mention that Chinese support for Nth Korea would make a US invasion unwise. I already mentioned that. But thanks for repeating it.

    You mock regime change, but then go on to admit that it is the only way forward. Perhaps you agree with Terje that trade is a better way of encouraging such a change… but you might want to learn from Terje about how to express you thoughts without making an idiot of yourself.

    As for Chinese purchase of US bond: If the chinese investments in the US are wise then there is no problem. If they are unwise then it is the Chinese that will be the biggest loser.

  10. 1. Who I was talking to:

    Yobbo Says:

    October 10th, 2006 at 2:33 am
    Assassination.

    John Humphreys Says:

    October 10th, 2006 at 5:58 am
    Funny. My last sentence first read “assassination anyone”

    So who’s the idiot?

    But on to a question that doesn’t answer itself:

    2. “You mock regime change, but then go on to admit that it is the only way forward.”

    Are you usually this disingenuous?

    Yes, I am in favour of “regime change”. But as anyone who hasn’t been living under a rock knows, that particular term has accumulated some baggage. It is necessary to distance one’s self from the use made of that term by the Bush Clique.

    3. The Bank of China, as an arm of the Chinese government, makes financial decisions based on financial considerations. The Bank also makes decisions based on political, and geopolitical, considerations. Individual depositors may suffer, but not before the Chinese government demonstrates its ability to thoroughly disrupt the world economy.

  11. One form of military action that might weaken the regimes grip a little would be to take over their airspace and ground their aircraft. However it would be a very hostile and provocative act. It did seemed to allow regional resistance in the Kurdish region of Iraq. If such a move was taken it would probably be best led by China.

    Perhaps any move to open up trade also needs to involve cutting aid. Feeding such a large standing army has got to be tough and whilst it would be cruel to starve the people just to rattle the regime there may be creative ways to get them to refocus some of their resources.

  12. I don’t believe that Terje’s trade suggestion is feasible in the case of N Korea. For one, the regime’s ‘juche’ ideology rejects trade and promotes self-sufficiency; for two, what would they sell — dodgy ballistic missiles and fizzer nuclear devices?

    Assassination is a dumb idea. Everyone always assumes that if the big bad guy is taken out, suddenly ‘the people’ will rise up and demand reforms, but it is just as likely that the regime (which is much more than one man) will use such an event to rally their faithful and crack-down even further on the populace.

    The only actor who could realistically effect regime change in N Korea is China. This is not likely, but is nonetheless far more likely now, given that the northern leadership has gone feral and ignored Chinese entreaties not to go ahead with the nuclear test. A China-backed coup to replace Kim with more moderate, perhaps even reformist, leaders is just the resolution this situation needs.

    And, just as an aside, I am a (neo)conservative who was (and is) pro Iraq and certainly pro-Afghanistan.

  13. In that case, BotanyWhig, I’m interested in how you justify the “Whig” bit of your handle, given that “Whig” is generally associated with gradualism, whereas, neocons are monomaniacal in their enthusiasm to force the issue.

  14. Katz, you’re embarassing yourself.

    1) You call me a neocon acolytes, despite the fact that I opposed both Iraq and Afghanistan. Obviously wrong. You obviously thought I was pro-Iraq and pro-Afghanistan, and now that you know you are wrong you should apologise.

    2) And there is nothing disingenuous about wanting regime change without supporting direct military action. Indeed, that is exactly what my original post suggested. You should perhaps read a bit more slowly.

    3) There is nothing to fear from Chinese ownership of US bonds. The Chinese have no interest in seeing a sudden and dramatic appreciation of their currency. The US economy would cope with any change in supply of foreign direct investment much better than China.

  15. 1. I don’t feel embarrassed. In fact I feel quite chirpy, given your vehemence and your apparent inability to read for meaning.

    2. “The US economy would cope with any change in supply of foreign direct investment much better than China.”

    Is this indicative of you understanding of the world?

    China is a huge net foreign creditor. Why should it need a supply of foreign funds?

    I won’t even begin to address your touching faith in the resilience of the US financial sector. Arguing with fools about the past is difficult enough. To engage them about the future is a waste ofeffort.

  16. from where I stand katz, your trousers are around your ankles.

    John is a goddamned peacenik compared to even Quiggin for chrissakes. I mean the goddamned hippy hippy shake shake boy doesn’t even support the intervention in Afghanistan. Your characterisation of him is just busted.

  17. I can guess where you stand Jason. Disturbing.

    1. I have no idea who John Humphreys is. Should I be impressed?

    2. My original post never mentioned him. Then he threw a spaz. Most unedifying.

    3. But did subsequently notice that Humphreys considered assassination. Mostly I was responding to Yobbo, an RWDB repeat offender, who was slavering about assassination. Go look yourself. Yobbo was the rather easy target of my original comments. But hey, shooting fish in a barrel does keep the eye in.

    4. In the course of his first and subsequent spazzes, Humphreys has revealed himself to be a person who cannot read for meaning and who as huge holes in his knowledge of the world.

    I guess I don’t have to be impressed after all.

  18. “I can guess where you stand Jason. Disturbing.”

    Yes, I’m sure you can, Trousers around the ankles. My statements on the war are on public record all over the blogs. I’m a bloodthirsty warmonger like Quiggin – i.e. I was for the Afghan war and against the Iraq invasion.

    Not really covering yourself in glory today are you? Careful, trousers round the ankles, Bubba from Georgia is coming up from behind now …

  19. Again, should I care about Jason Soon’s alleged record on neocon wars?

    [Cue crickets.]

    But the repetition of the themes of trouserlessness and war may be spookily significant.

    Projection and homoerotic transference, anyone?

  20. FTR Katz, what’s wrong with assassination? John H makes a pretty good case for it as an alternative to all kinds of collateral damage from actual WAR. And FTR I’m a realpolitik kind of guy not a neocon and I agree, assassination should be used more often as an alternative to, like, actualy killing lots of innocent parties?

  21. what a charlatan you are, Katz. You’ve jumped to conclusions twice and mischaracterised 2 people wrongly – what did this sentence mean if not to imply that I was a neocon?

    “I can guess where you stand Jason. Disturbing.”

    And then you pretend when you’ve been refuted, that it wasn’t brought up at all.

  22. “You’ve jumped to conclusions twice and mischaracterised 2 people wrongly”

    Do you really mean this?

    Or are you adding your inability to write meaningful sentences to your inability to read for meaning?

  23. Katz, the name is not intended to reflect either my politics nor my geography (I live in Melbourne). I am simply a fan of the late, great William Charles Wentworth.

  24. Now you’ve got into the habit of amending your misstatements, you don’t want to redact this as well do you Jason?

    “assassination should be used more often as an alternative to, like, actualy killing lots of innocent parties”

    And as a self-proclaimed devotee of realpolitik JS, no doubt you have an extensive list of the cases where political assassination has brought about the changes desired by the assassins.

  25. My “slavering” post consisted of one single word. You are an idiot Katz. Truly.

    1. I have no idea who John Humphreys is.

    So why are you here? Why not comment on a gardening blog? You know just as much about that as you do about libertarianism in Australia – nothing.

  26. This fellow is simply a neocon obsessive. He barges into a room and calls everyone a neocon and when he gets shown up, he pretends he didn’t say a word.

  27. Katz — you have misread me on the foreign investment issue. When I said: “The US economy would cope with any change in supply of foreign direct investment much better than China”, what I meant was than the US would cope better than China if the chinese supply of FDI to the US dried up. I wasn’t implying that China was a net recipient of FDI.

    I thought that was fairly obvious from the context of the sentence. We were talking about Chinese FDI flows to the US and I had just said that the Chinese wouldn’t want their currency to appreciate. If you don’t understand what I write about economics, feel free to ask for a clarrification before shooting off your mouth.

    You say: “Arguing with fools about the past is difficult enough”. When and where have we argued about the past?

    You say: “My original post never mentioned him (John Humphreys)”. True, but you were obviously implying Yobbo and myself when you talked about neocon acolytes (note the plural). You confirmed this when I asked “who are you talking to” and you responded by quoting Yobbo and me.

    It seems you are being intentionally misleading here in pretending you weren’t talking about me. You obviously assumed I was a warnick and you were wrong. You should have apologised.

    You go on to accuse me of “spazzes”, imply that I have mis-read you and say that I have holes in my knowledge. All untrue. I have been reasonably polite to you given your behaviour, read your comments for what they were, and the supposed “holes in my knowledge” come from your misreading me!

    In the future, please try to be constructive and debate the ideas instead of starting flame wars.

  28. “When I said: “The US economy would cope with any change in supply of foreign direct investment much better than China”, what I meant was than the US would cope better than China if the chinese supply of FDI to the US dried up.”

    More redacting! It’s at epidemic proportions!

    Do you people ever say what you mean the first time?

    In any case your restatement of your position (are you sure you really mean it this time?) makes an absurd case.

    You are claiming that the people who want the money will do better from not getting it than the people who are able to invest the money.

    Reality check here JH. Who is the piper, and who plays the tune?

    JS. I guess you don’t have that list after all.

    Yobbo, I have nothing to say to you.

  29. Katz — I wasn’t changing my position. I was clarrifying it because you evidently misunderstood. If you can’t understand what I write about economics, please feel free to ask. I admit that sometimes I assume knowledge and I apologise if I spoke over your head.

    And yes, I mean it. If an investment is of poor quality, then I believe it is the investor (in this case the Chinese government) that will bare a large part of the cost.

  30. Pay attention Humph, your forced air of superiority is particularly threadbare.

    You’ve addressed only one part of the issue I raised:

    “3. The Bank of China, as an arm of the Chinese government, makes financial decisions based on financial considerations. The Bank also makes decisions based on political, and geopolitical, considerations. Individual depositors may suffer, but not before the Chinese government demonstrates its ability to thoroughly disrupt the world economy.”

    You have mentioned only commercial priorities, whereas I also drew your attention to political and geopoltical priorities.

    I need hardly add that your common-or-garden commercial bank would seldom forego commercial gain in pursuance of geopolitical priorities.

    Of course there are financial costs for the Bank of China associated with pursuing geopolitical objectives. But I wonder whether a smart regime would get more ban for its buck from this strategy rather than spending money on a huge defence establishment. Of course, we’ll never know in the case of the Bush Clique, because whatever else one may call them, a “smart regime” isn’t one of them.

    Either address the issue or admit that I’m correct.

  31. Thank you for being more polite. I would prefer if we debated Nth Korea here and left this for another time/place, but I’ll respond briefly.

    My point was that I don’t think the Chinese will dump US assets because that would hurt them more than the US. The US would see an increase in interest rates, but I believe their economy is flexible to enough to cope. Also, US exporters would benefit from a depreciated currency. Any downturn would be small and short-lived.

    I am also skeptical of the geopolitical advantage of trying to harm the US economy. So I was not ignoring your suggestion of using China’s foreign assets to hurt the US, but as I can see little benefit and many costs from such an action I find it unlikely.

  32. But you do see that there is linkage to the NoKo issue.

    China is now in a position where it can say “no” to everyone, including the US.

    The NoKo issue may well be the moment when that new fact in the world becomes plain.

    If China says “no deal on anything” regarding NoKo, what recourse does the US realistically have?

    And this is why I found darkly enthusiastic allusions to assassination so jejune.

    For the record, I believe that China will allow some temporary and somewhat token gesture, and the US will accept it while continuing to make bellicose noises.

  33. I don’t believe that Terje’s trade suggestion is feasible in the case of N Korea. For one, the regime’s ‘juche’ ideology rejects trade and promotes self-sufficiency; for two, what would they sell — dodgy ballistic missiles and fizzer nuclear devices?

    I’m no expert on the issue of what to do about North Korea.

    However if as you say North Korea is commited to self-sufficiency then any blanket trade prohibition from our end merely supports the basis and rational for that ideology. Its kind of like telling a shy child that he should engage more with other people or else we will all deliberately shun him as punishment.

    And if North Korea is really commiteed to not trading then enforcing a blanket prohibition on trade with them is like stricking them with an empty sock.

    I’m not saying that an openess to trade from our end will change North Korea. I just question the idea that prohibiting trade will.

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