Redefining Terms of the China-DPRK Connection
by Michael S. Woodson, J.D., Senior Fellow, The American Leadership & Policy Foundation
“Rogue state” is a self-deluding Western foreign policy term that has helped China eschew responsibility for enabling North Korea’s aggressive nuclear weaponization, and it is time to call China a sponsor of lawless North Korean behavior that it has a duty to reverse, including irresponsible nuclear proliferation.[i]
Other Western terms for North Korea have included “outlaw”[ii] and “renegade”[iii] – terms that focused responsibility on the Kim Dynasty and minimized China’s role as North Korea’s top trade, aid, and political sponsor.
Outlaw, rogue, and renegade replaced Cold War terms such as proxy, client, and satellite in the lexicon of U.S. administrations eager to put the 20th Century Cold War behind them.
Western foreign policy elites prioritized refreezing the thaw of frozen ethnic conflicts surrounding the former Soviet Union assuming too soon that Russian and Chinese democracy would arise naturally from the Soviet collapse and Chinese sovereign business participation in free markets, respectively, without comprehensive post-Cold War political-economic reconstruction.
The West, via NATO, repurposed itself too narrowly for the next global security challenge.[iv] Yet when NATO in 1999 targeted Russia’s Serbian allies and bombed the Chinese embassy in former Yugoslavia where Chinese intelligence lent communications support to Serbian forces, this revealed that Chinese and Russian interests were already collaborating against NATO as an enemy.
The Clinton Administration had set its sights on rogue dictators and terrorist groups as if these were the only security threats to the free world.[v] Russia and China cooperated sparingly against terrorism while also supporting terror sponsoring dictators and terrorist groups opposing the U.S. such as the Taliban, Saddam Hussein, and Hezbollah.[vi] [vii] [viii]
In 2007, Dr. K.P. O’Reilly published his review of U.S. policymakers’ term “rogue states” from 1993-2004 and how it came to limit U.S. policy and action toward so-described regimes.[ix] In 2012, O’Reilly contrasted the divergent approaches to “rogue states” by Presidents Bill Clinton and George W. Bush, noting that both were drawn to use force against Saddam Hussein.[x] In its first year the Trump Administration appears similarly provoked by North Korea.
Author Chin-Kuei Tsui cited O’Reilly’s 2007 findings that President Clinton and his Secretaries of State used the term “rogue states” 131 times from 1993-2000, establishing the term in U.S. foreign policy circles despite the fact the Kim Dynasty has long depended on China for its survival.[xi] The North is clearly not a “rogue” state as to China, for no entity is rogue that is so heavily dependent on another entity for the resources needed to operate.
For decades, negotiations, warnings, military exercises, sanctions, condemnations, resolutions, pretensive talk, and abused incentives have failed to stop North Korea’s nuclear weapons programs.[xii] In August, 2017 the Kim Dynasty tested two ICBMs deemed capable of carrying nuclear warheads.[xiii] U.S. analysts also believe the North has mastered miniaturization of nuclear warheads.[xiv] Are we to believe China was unaware?
As if seeking cover in the West’s “rogue states” mindset, China’s president Xi made the case to President Donald Trump in his visit to Mar-a-Lago that China has little control over North Korea’s regime, citing the long, complicated history between China and the Korean peninsula.[xv] Yet these representations belie China’s nanny-state relationship to an aggressive North Korea from the North’s 1950 military invasion of South Korea to the current support China provides.[xvi] For example, experts point out that the biconic design of North Korea’s Hwasong warheads are similar to Chinese designs proliferating in Pakistan.[xvii]
Another report has closely compared photos of rocket engines inspected by Kim Jong-un in photo-ops to those of Ukrainian-Russian made ICBMs.[xviii] The implied Ukraine-Russia connection has a China-DPRK connection with 2014 reports that Chinese and North Korean agents tried to steal “classified missile technology” from the Yuzhmash factory in Dnipropetrovsk, Ukraine.[xix] China had already become a top customer of the Ukrainian defense sector between 2009-2013.[xx]
China continues to insist that the problem of North Korea is between North Korea and the U.S. However, Xi’s complicated-history primer to President Trump at Mar-a-Lago would contradict that myth by admitting a larger, older problem between China and the Koreas.
The Trump Administration should remind world leaders of the original reason for the U.S. in South Korea: to help oust the then-fascist empire of Japan from Asian coasts (including China’s) and to prevent another bloodthirsty authoritarian (Stalin) from taking Japan’s place.[xxi]
China, the Soviets, and now Russia, have militarily sponsored communist North Korea from its inception, enabling its aggression against South Korea. They have also repeatedly protected North Korea from serious sanctions or international action in the UN Security Council by opposing or diluting the measures.[xxii]
China had also recently been increasing its coal imports from North Korea at 9-10% of China’s coal needs by 2015 in what was likely a strategic move to secure a predictable coal supply for electric power in the event of war with the West over disputed rights in the South China Sea or Taiwan. Most of China’s coal sources are from Western nations.
Chinese hypocrisy in support of the Kim Dynasty is as near as Tibet. There, the People’s Liberation Army invaded and expelled the Tibetan Dalai Lama for lacking the atheist, communist brand while supporting the Kim Dynasty’s fanatical, divine dynasty- cult and its militant juche ideology.[xxiii]
Moving forward, U.S. administrations must not only play devil’s advocate to their own foreign policy premises and analyses, but also do rigorous self-study to “know self” in combination with “knowing the adversary” to avoid ignorance of weaknesses exploited by China. It is such blind spots that have led to the North Korean missile crisis of 2017.
Kim Jong-un’s new ICBM capability, absent penalty or correction from its Chinese sponsor, may in part be explained in Xi Jinpeng’s warning during his 90th PLA anniversary speech that China “…will never allow any people, organization or political party to split any part of Chinese territory from the country at any time, in any form.”[xxiv] Some observers explained Xi’s words to refer to China’s borderland dispute with India. However, the word “organization” could also include NATO or Pacific alliances. The “in any form” reference might parallel Xi’s Mar-a-Lago primer to President Trump in which he told the president that the Koreas were once part of China. Yet, on principle, if not for American intervention in WWII, China might have lost much more than disputable buffer states to Japanese forces.
The Kim Dynasty’s existential nuclear threats toward the U.S., its Pacific allies, and bases have put China in a tough position. Perhaps because of this China joined the August 2017 U.S. draft of UN sanctions against North Korea after two ICBM tests.[xxv]
China must own and repair the North Korean liability if it would be the responsible regional leader of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization and the globalist leader it claimed to be at Davos.[xxvi] It is arguable that China owes a debt to make North Korea into a stable, non-threatening stakeholder in the existing international order as South Korea has been under U.S. friendship. This is prerequisite to any discussions of reunification of the Koreas, or indeed, of larger negotiations about the shape of the future international order. It is prerequisite because if there is a nuclear war that escalates because of China’s uncontrolled proxy state, there may be no world order of any kind left to inherit.
Michael Woodson, J.D., is a Senior Fellow of the American Leadership and Policy Foundation and founder of Stratpass Corp., which has recently published “Above Kim’s Head: A Working Deterrence Policy for North Korea,” on sale at Amazon.com.
[i] North Korea assaulted South Korea with Chinese and Soviet support on June 25, 1950. Kim il-Sung,
[ii] Public Papers of the Presidents of the United States: Ronald Reagan, Best Books, p. 1375, 1987 (referring to need for Strategic Defense Initiative against missile launches by “outlaw” regimes and madmen).
[iii]Stanley A. Renshon, In His Father’s Shadow: The Transformations of George W. Bush, St. Martin’s Press, p. 180, 2015 (referring to unwillingness to sign comprehensive test-ban treaty without enforcement mechanisms for cheaters and “renegade regimes.”)
[iv]Anthony Lake, “Confronting Backlash States,” Foreign Affairs, ESSAY March/April 1994 (Anthony Lake was Assistant to the President for National Security Affairs during the Clinton Administration whose essay put Cuba, North Korea, Iran, Iraq and Libya in the security crosshairs for defying democratization as “outlaw” or “backlash” states seeking WMD).
[v] Id., Lake in Foreign Affairs.
[vi]Interview with Analyst Paulo Casaca, ‘China and Russia want US out of Afghanistan,’ Deutsche Welle, June 14, 2017 (“Analyst Paulo Casaca tells DW the US must keep an eye on a hostile China-Pakistan-Russia alliance in Afghanistan, and that Pentagon chief Jim Mattis is unclear about what he means by a regional solution to the conflict”).
[vii] Jesse Rosenfeld, “Russia Is Arming Hezbollah, Say Two of the Group’s Field Commanders,” Daily Beast, January 11, 2016; Also see: September 11, 2001 : Attack on America,
Congressional Record, Senate: “U.S.-China Cooperation in the War on Terrorism,” (Senate – October 25, 2001) Page: S11096. Submission to record by Senator Kyl indicating Chinese PLA communications support to Taliban, Saddam, and praise for Osama bin Laden’s tactics as difficult for U.S. military.)(Compare China’s support for Serb forces’ communications combating NATO).
[viii] Ted Galen Carpenter, “Terrorist Sponsors: Saudi Arabia, Pakistan, China,” CATO Institute, November 16, 2001 (citing China’s provision of military technology to countries that sponsor terrorism, including Iran, Iraq and Syria).
[ix] O’Reilly, K. P. (2007), “Perceiving Rogue States: The Use of the “Rogue State” Concept by U.S. Foreign Policy Elites,” Foreign Policy Analysis, 3: 295–315. doi:10.1111/j.1743-8594.2007.00052.x
[x] O’Reilly, K. P. (2013), A Rogue Doctrine?: The Role of Strategic Culture on US Foreign Policy Behavior. Foreign Policy Analysis, 9: 57–77. doi:10.1111/j.1743-8594.2011.00171.x
[xi] Chin-Kuei Tsui, Clinton, New Terrorism and the Origins of the War on Terror, Routledge, p. 89, Jul 15, 2016.
[xiii]“North Korea launched another ICBM, Pentagon says” CBS/AP, July 28, 2017.
[xiv] Lily Hay Newman, “North Korea Just Took the Step Experts Have Dreaded,” WIRED, August 8, 2017.
[xv] Bonnie Glaser and Alexandra Viers, “US-China Relations: Trump and Xi Break the Ice at Mar-a-Lago,” Comparative Connections, Vol. 19, No. 1, pp. 21-32.
[xvi] Eleanor Albert , “The China–North Korea Relationship,” Council on Foreign Relations, (website) Last updated July 05, 2017 (noting 90% of North Korea’s trade volume from China). https://www.cfr.org/backgrounder/china-north-korea-relationship
[xvii] Anders Corr , “Chinese Involvement In North Korea’s Nuclear Missile Program: From Trucks To Warheads,” Forbes, July 5, 2017 (citing Indian sources, and Richard Fisher, missile expert and Senior Fellow at the International Assessment and Strategy Center. Fisher’s coverage of Chinese military developments and technology has a stricter US-defense bias some would consider hawkish, which this author believes should have been heeded earlier, given the now emergent status of North Korea nuclear ICBM capability. Taken together with near 70 year sponsorship of North Korea’s unlawful aggressor role against South Korea, the US, and allies, hawkishness is warranted for nuclear deterrence to continue to protect the US, its military bases, and its allies.
[xviii]Michael Elleman, “The secret to North Korea’s ICBM success,” International Institute for Strategic Studies, IIIS Voices, August 14, 2017.
[xix]Alexandara McLees, Eugene Rumer, “Saving Ukraine’s Defense Industry,” Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, July 30, 2014.
[xxi] Shannon Tiezzi, “When the US and China Were Allies 70 years ago, the U.S. was full of pro-Chinese propaganda, encouraging friendship with a wartime ally,” The Diplomat, August 21, 2015.
[xxii] Id. at 8, Davenport, ArmsControl.org.; and see: Joel Wuthnow ,“China and the Processes of Cooperation in UN Security Council Deliberations,” The Chinese Journal of International Politics, Volume 3, Issue 1, 1 March 2010, Pages 55–77, https://doi.org/10.1093/cjip/pop015, March 6, 2010.
[xxiii] Michael J. Seth, A History of Korea: From Antiquity to the Present, Rowman & Littlefield, p. 361, 2011.
[xxiv]Colin Dwyer, “Xi Jinping: China Won’t ‘Swallow The Bitter Fruit’ Of Attacks On Its Interests,” NPR, August 1, 2017.
[xxv]”China says it’s OK with ‘paying the price’ for North Korea sanctions,” Thomson Reuters Aug 08, 2017; and see: Simon Denyer and Amanda Erickson, “Beijing warns Pyongyang: You’re on your own if you go after the United States,” Washington Post, August 11, 2017 (citing Reuters as China calls the latest U.N. Security Council sanctions “the right response to a series of missile tests.”).
[xxvi] Noah Barkin and Elizabeth Piper, “In Davos, Xi makes case for Chinese leadership role,” Reuters, January 17, 2017; and See Ariel Cohen, “The Dragon Looks West: China and the Shanghai Cooperation Organization,” September 7, 2006.