Wednesday, April 10, 2013

North Korea – Bluff, Hype, Histrionics – Attempting to Judge the Irrational

The Border between North Korea and China - border crossings at the river closed today to tourists - not businessmen. Image from

From the Washington Post article headlined - “North Korea’s warning to foreigners in South is second threat this week” – speaks to the second warning for foreigners to leave South Korea immediately – due to imminent war. Several news outlets have suggested that the North Korean’s would be launching missiles today, as they had moved said missiles to the eastern coast of Korea. The Japanese are on high alert and the Post article attempts to explain the rationale and potential reality of a threat by North Korean’s Young Un.

It’s not possible to explain or to attempt to determine what one earth is going to happen given the variety of the unknowns involved in a nation that is basically dark to the rest of the world.

The Threats:

From the Independent (Ireland) a slightly more alarming headline: “Get ready for thermonuclear war, North Korea tells world”:

North Korea urged foreigners to flee South Korea to avoid "thermonuclear war" as signs grew that it was preparing a possible missile test. Delivering another warning, North Korea vowed to wage a "merciless sacred retaliatory war" if provoked by its enemies. Kim Jong-un's regime will be "technically" ready to fire a medium-range missile as soon as today, the South Korean media reported. "According to intelligence analysis of North Korea's missile movements, it is believed to have completed preparations for a launch," an unnamed military official told Yonhap, the South Korean news agency. Last week, North Korea began moving a Musudan medium-range missile to its east coast, the location for previous test firings. Some experts believe that North Korea is planning a show of strength for April 15, the anniversary of the birth of Kim Il-sung, the founder of the nation, a date officially known as 'The Day of the Sun'. Japan announced that PAC-3 missile interceptors had been deployed to protect Tokyo. Two US destroyers armed with missile-defence systems – and two similarly equipped warships from the South Korean navy – are in place off the Korean coast.

The Chinese are taking things a bit more cautiously according to the Indian Express Some larger border crossings between North Korea and China have been closed to tourists, but not to business travelersgiving the North Korean’s a sense that they are being taken seriously by the Chinese, yet, not so much as to interfere with business.

One would think therefore, if the North Korean’s were close to destroying interests in the area that would in any way affect the Chinese, there would be an immediate reaction from China. Not strongly worded condemnations, or sanctions, rather, one might see the Chinese put an end to the nonsense by means one can only imagine. China is one of the North’s only allies, and one that has the cash to supply the North with food, fuel and weapons aplenty. North Korea may bluff and bluster and annoy the planet from their perch near the North Pole, but, in reality the Chinese would be pulling the final strings. China of itself is somewhat of a mystery, and it would be difficult for the East to ascertain what might be going on behinds the scenes. Therefore, that begs the question: If the Chinese aren’t on the border or “inviting” young Un visit China for an extended period of time, then one might suppose that the saber rattling is, for all intents and purposes “show and tell”. Alternately, if the Chinese have lost control of the North, then one might have a crazy man about to start a nuclear war – because he can. Yet should young Un fire a nuclear missile that actually hit a target of import - how long would the Chinese allow him unfettered reign?

The Council of Foreign Relations has an outline of the relationship between nations at, in which it outlines the dependence of the Korean State on China, the history of the relationship, and the lengths to which the Chinese have gone to strongly condemn any foolishness coming from their neighbor. The basis for the article – expert analysis of the relationship as well as the potential for any serious problems arising – given the close proximity of the Chinese and the value they place on North Korea – it is worth reading.

There may be a reason to take the young dictator in Chief a bit seriously, but then again, there are the Chinese. One might suspect that Wednesday will come and go without much incident – or, should the Young Un of North Korea behave irrationally (One might be reminded of the Caesar - Nero), then China would, in all likelihood, respond in force.

Then again, assuming the experts are wrong, and looking at the “face” of relationships between North Korea and China, have not compensated for a crazy person on the Throne in North Korea, with an untested Chinese leader next door. It makes for great headlines. The truth is, all is speculation, and the society, as closed as it is in the Eastern nations, makes speculation the rule, not the exception. What is not disputed is the debt owed to the Chinese by the North Korean State and its monarchial dictatorship. The very basis of North Korea’s survival being dependent on the Chinese gives one the impression that this is a lot of bluff and bluster.

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