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Military and political tension around the Korean peninsula does not cease. Since the beginning of the year, under the order of supreme leader Kim Jong-un, North Korea has conducted six nuclear missile tests. The last unsuccessful test of a ballistic missile was conducted by the North Korean authorities on April 5. The current sanctions of the US, EU and Japan against individuals and legal entities of the DPRK did not persuade the North Korean regime to abandon the development of new missiles. In the United States, various pressure options are being worked out for North Korea, in addition to sanctions. The National Security Council of the United States considered options for placing nuclear weapons in South Korea and even physical elimination of Kim Jong-un.
We recall that, in conjunction with US military experts, South Korea is preparing by 2019 a special military unit of up to 2 thousand people to eliminate the North Korean leadership in the case of Pyongyang's military aggression and the use of nuclear weapons. However, before starting to use force, the White House is trying to invite China to solve the North Korean problem.
Advice of "elder brother"
Despite a difficult period in US-China relations, US President Donald Trump recently invited his Chinese counterpart Xi Jinping to visit his estate in Florida. During the dinner they discussed the problem of North Korea. The US knows firsthand about the fact that China has an influence on the dynasty of North Korean dictators. Without China's military intervention in the Korean War (1950-53), American troops wouldn’t have succeeded in completely destroying a group of North Korean troops. If at one time China gave impetus to the development of the communist regime in North Korea, then the Chinese Communists have more chances to convince their North Korean counterparts to abandon the nuclear missile program. China is not interested in escalating the conflict on the Korean peninsula near its borders. In this case, a large number of North Korean refugees will appear in China.
Xi Jinping offered Donald Trump his version of solving the problem. China will try to persuade Kim Jong-un to stop the development and testing of nuclear weapons. In return, the United States and South Korea will stop conducting joint military exercises aimed at deterring and intimidating Pyongyang. China has all the conditions for imposing sanctions on North Korea, if Kim Jong-un will not listen to the advice of his "elder brother". China is the main foreign economic partner of the DPRK. Turnover between China and North Korea in 2014 amounted to 6.8 billion dollars - 70% of the total trade turnover of Pyongyang. North Koreans depend on the supply of food and energy from China. The problem of food in the DPRK is really acute. In the 90s from 800 thousand to 2.4 million North Koreans died because of famine. After DPRK conducted a nuclear test in 2006, China supported the UN Security Council resolution 1718, which provided imposing sanctions against North Korea. After another nuclear test in the DPRK in 2013, China has limited the supply of energy to the North Koreans.
North Korea has experience in reaching compromises with the United States. The previous leader of the DPRK Kim Jong Il (Kim Jong-un's father) signed with the US President Bill Clinton the Framework Agreement in 1994. According to the document, in exchange for freezing the nuclear program, the United States pledged to supply North Korea with fuel oil and build two nuclear reactors (which have not been built). The United States also provided North Korea with food and medicine.
China, no less than the US, is concerned about North Korea's nuclear missile tests. It is not so much scared of potential threat of nuclear weapons use by the DPRK but of the sale of ballistic missiles with nuclear warheads to radical Islamists. In the opinion of Wallace Gregson, Lieutenant-General of the Marine Corps of the United States, North Korea is making profits in the black market bypassing international sanctions through the sale of counterfeit products and the drug trade. The DPRK can take a firm position in the black arms market, and its clients are China's opponents - the radical Islamists. In the Chinese Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Region (East Turkestan) there are separatist tendencies. The Uighur armed formation "Islamic Movement of East Turkestan" is interested in seceding from China and creating an independent theocratic state. Uygur Islamists are suspected of having links with Al-Qaida terrorist organizations and the Taliban.
One good turn deserves another
The very fact that the United States has sought assistance from China to resolve the North Korean problem is a signal that the Donald Trump Administration is considering the possibility of sharing responsibility for the maintenance of international security with Chinese counterparts. In view of the existing economic interdependence, for the United States and China it is more profitable to cooperate and divide spheres of influence in the world than to oppose each other. China is the main creditor of the United States. According to the US Congress, bilateral trade turnover between the two countries has grown from $ 2 billion to $ 579 billion over the past 37 years.
Apparently, the Chinese leadership expects from its American counterparts certain concessions on existing disputable issues in the Asia-Pacific region (APR) if assistance in resolving the North Korean problem proves successful. The US and China are long-standing rivals in the APR. China claims to the Spratly Islands in the South China Sea, which are disputed by the ASEAN countries, including the regional partners of the United States in the face of Malaysia, Taiwan and the Philippines. Also, China wants to take the Senkaku Islands, which are part of Japan, the US support point in the Far East since the end of the Second World War.
Beijing is interested in Washington not hindering the strengthening of its navy and the militarization of the South China Sea. The Pacific Fleet is the most powerful naval group in the Asia-Pacific region and former President Barack Obama has repeatedly sent US ships to patrol the South China Sea in order to restrain China's activity – this country continues to build military facilities on natural and artificial islands.
Another point is the further development of North Korea. China is interested in the US secretly recognizing the DPRK as the sphere of influence of Beijing and not contributing to the change of the communist regime, not aiming to unite the "two Koreas" into a single state under the jurisdiction of Seoul. The maximum that Beijing can be interested in is the change in the regime of Kim Jong-un to a more predictable power that will preserve the communist system and orient itself in social and economic development to neighboring China, where the market economy is thriving.
It is difficult to guess whether the US will backtrack in favor of China in the APR, which is perceived as an area of interest of the White House, for the sake of resolving the North Korean problem. It is doubtful that cooperation in stabilizing the situation in the DPRK will entail resolving all the controversial issues of the United States and China.
Maybe the Chinese leadership's attempt to persuade North Korean colleagues to stop the development and testing of nuclear weapons will not result with success. According to the CNN news agency, after coming to power in the DPRK, Kim Jong-un systematically conducts repressions against political opponents who maintain ties with China. He is a typical dictator of a totalitarian state, which seeks to hold all the power in its hands and prevents outside influence on the political processes in North Korea.
In this case, the Pentagon is working on options for using military force against the DPRK, if other means of persuasion or coercion prove their ineffectiveness. US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said that if North Korea threatens South Korea and the US military (there are 28 thousand US troops in South Korea), then the US will have to give an adequate response. The White House is already demonstrating the power to Kim Jong-un, sending a group of US naval forces of two destroyers, a cruiser and an aircraft carrier "Karl Vinson" from Singapore to the Korean coast. The Pentagon makes it clear to Kim Jong-un that if necessary, the US military are ready to fire several dozen cruise missiles and conduct air strikes on North Korea's military facilities, just like it was in Syria.
An alternative option for restraining North Korea's military activity could be the use of American warships equipped with the Aegis missile defense system (a similar missile defense system is located in Romania). These ships can carry on duty in Korean waters and shoot down missiles launched from the territory of the DPRK during the tests or exercises.
The death of Kim Jong-un is unlikely to solve the problem of the North Korean nuclear missile program. The totalitarian communist regime in North Korea is a system where Kim is a cog, who inherited the powers of the head of state from his father. His place, if necessary, will be occupied by some general or political figure. As after the death of Joseph Stalin, the Soviet Union did not cease to exist, so after the death of Kim Jong-un, the DPRK's behavior may remain unpredictable and dangerous. In its political culture, North Korea has borrowed a lot from Stalinism - the cult of personality, repression and the constant search for external enemies.