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China and North Korea: unhappiest of allies

North Korea far from being a Chinese “attack dog” or satellite is a vehemently independent country, which China is trying to rein in. US threats are simply making that more difficult.

Alexander Mercouris

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As China makes no effort to hide its growing exasperation with both Washington and Pyongyang, now is perhaps a good moment to discuss the complex relationship between China and North Korea.

Korea borders China and relations between China and Korea have an exceptionally long history, to the very start of the Korean state at roughly the time the Roman empire was forming in Europe.  Any visitor to Korea – North or South – cannot fail but notice the huge and deep influence on Korea of Chinese culture.  By comparison US influence in South Korea seems ephemeral.

This long interaction has not however always been happy with the Koreans – a proud and passionate people – often allied to China, but also sometimes resisting Chinese attempts to dominate them.

This provides the essential background to understanding the present relations between North Korea and China.  Though both are nominally Communist countries and though China’s military intervention in 1950 was critical to North Korea’s survival, the North Korean leadership is wary of China and resistant to any Chinese action which it sees as intended to dominate itself.

This is what ultimately lies behind Kim Il-sung’s Juche ideology.  Its extreme doctrine of national self-reliance is ultimately an expression of North Korea’s determination to maintain the greatest possible distance that it can from China, the one country which could theoretically achieve political and economic dominance over it.  Since total independence from China can for North Korea however never be more than an aspiration this is never expressed openly, leading to confusion in the West about what Juche actually means.  However North Koreans and China’s leadership can hardly have any doubts about it.

That Juche is in fact a doctrine intended to keep North Korea independent of China is incidentally shown by North Korean practice during Kim Il-sung’s lifetime.  In reality far from being totally self-reliant or even aspiring to be so, up to the point when the USSR collapsed North Korea was actually tightly integrated into the Soviet economy.  Only after the USSR collapsed did the extent of this – and of the closeness of Soviet and North Korean political ties – become clear.  Since Juche was and is aimed first and foremost at China, this did not worry Kim Il-sung or his officials over-much, if it concerned them at all.

North Korea’s ballistic missile and nuclear weapons programme follows the same rationale.  The solution to increasing US pressure which might have been followed by a more conventional regime after the USSR collapsed would have been to ally North Korea closer to China.  China after all is in a position to provide North Korea with all the economic assistance it needs and to provide it with security guarantees.  However that would have made North Korea dependent on China, and potentially subservient to it.  Since that would have been contrary to the North Korean leaders’ determination to achieve the greatest possible degree of independence from China, they chose to seek security by developing ballistic missiles and nuclear weapons instead.

Since North Korea’s ballistic missile and nuclear weapons programme is as much intended to assert North Korea’s independence from China as it is to deter the US, it is completely unsurprising that the Chinese oppose it.  Besides from their point of view by increasing regional tensions it works against Chinese interests.

The Chinese for example have in recent years been working hard to develop a close relationship with South Korea.  North Korea’s ballistic missile and nuclear weapons programme has put that in jeopardy and has tightened South Korea’s connections to the US.

The Chinese also cannot be happy that North Korea’s development of ballistic missiles and nuclear weapons is increasing the prospects that countries which might be feel threatened by North Korea – such as South Korea and Japan – might decide at some point to acquire their own ballistic missiles and nuclear weapons as well.

In the case of Japan – which conducted a prolonged and horrific war of aggression against China during the first half of the twentieth century –  and with which China still has extremely prickly relations, the prospect of Japan one day acquiring ballistic missiles and nuclear weapons which could potentially reach China is for the Chinese leadership and people an especially great cause for concern.

China therefore has good reason to dislike the North Korean ballistic missile and nuclear weapons programme and to want to end it.  However precisely because the North Koreans have developed their ballistic missile and nuclear weapons programme in part in order to distance themselves from China, China has only limited leverage over North Korea to end it – a point the Chinese repeatedly make but which the West is deaf to.

In reality, far from North Korea being China’s “attack dog” – as some Western commentators profess to think – the truth is almost the diametric opposite, and the whole thrust of Chinese policy for years has not been to incite North Korea forward but to rein it in.

Indeed this truth is so obvious to anyone who makes any serious study of Chinese-North Korean relations, that it says much about the delusional quality of Western discourse about North Korea and China that so few can see it.

However if China and North Korea have a tense relationship – and have had one ever since the Korean War – there is also despite the tension and the at times mutual dislike between a shared dependence – much as there was between China and North Vietnam during the Vietnam War.

China is indeed North Korea’s most important economic partner and the main source of such technology as North Korea imports, though the extent of this may be exaggerated since the whole point of Juche – still very much the dominant policy and ideology of North Korea – is to limit this as much as possible.  China’s role in the North Korean economy – and its trade with North Korea – may only look big because everyone else’s is so small.  The fact that North Korea’s annual exports last year were said to be just $3 billion shows how unimportant to North Korea’s economy foreign trade actually is.  My guess is that the only product North Korea buys from China that really matters to North Korea, and which it would struggle to replace internally, is oil.  Importantly the Chinese have consistently ruled out the idea of an indefinite embargo on their oil exports to North Korea precisely because they know that that is the one step which might cause an internal crisis there which could put Kim Jong-un’s position in jeopardy.

More importantly for North Korea than the economic relationship with China is the fact that China is the regional colossus which came to its rescue in 1950, and which continues to counter-balance the US in the region.  It is because the relationship with China – however tense and unhappy – is crucial to North Korea’s security that North Korea cannot ignore it.

The same is also true for China.  Though China makes no secret of its disapproval of North Korea’s ballistic missile and nuclear weapons programme and indeed of its general dislike of North Korea’s entire Juche policy, the fact remains that China considers the survival of an independent North Korea as vital for its national security, just as it did when it intervened militarily to prevent North Korea’s collapse in 1950.

The Chinese have made it very clear what they want to see in the Korean Peninsula: total denuclearisation, with North Korea giving up its nuclear weapons and ballistic missiles and the US withdrawing all its troops from the Korean Peninsula, and with North Korea establishing diplomatic relations with South Korea and the US and reforming its economy and political system on Chinese lines.  The Chinese are no doubt confident that were that to happen the two Koreas – North and South – would be drawn into China’s orbit, and would become for China an important economic partner and a counter-balance to Japan.

In order to achieve this the Chinese will exert pressure on North Korea – including by way of sanctions imposed via the UN Security Council, though they adamantly oppose sanctions imposed unilaterally – but they will act decisively to stop any attempt to overthrow North Korea’s government.

This is a difficult policy to implement given North Korean attitudes to China, if only because it creates a standing temptation to North Korea’s leaders to increase tensions with the US in order to obtain greater support from China.  A wise US policy would understand this, and would see that responding to North Korean actions by increasing tensions further will only increase China’s support for North Korea, which is exactly what North Korea wants.

A much wiser policy – indeed in the context of the regional tensions in the Korean Peninsula the only wise one – is to work with the Chinese to achieve the broad settlement of the conflict in the Korean Peninsula that the Chinese want and which is also in the US interest.  That means doing what the Chinese suggest, which is talking to Pyongyang.

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Russian Il-20 downed by Syrian missile. Russia blames Israel. Israel blames Syria (Video)

The Duran – News in Review – Episode 110.

Alex Christoforou

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The unthinkable has happened in Syria.

The world now teeters on the brink of all out war in Syria as a Russian Il-20 was downed by Syrian missile after Israeli F-16s used it as cover during attack, according to statements made by the Russian Ministry of Defense.

President Vladimir Putin, answering a reporter’s question during a press conference with Hungarian PM Viktor Orban, said the downing of the Russian Il-20 plane looks like “a chain of tragic circumstances.” 

The Duran’s Alex Christoforou and Editor-in-Chief Alexander Mercouris discuss the tripwire triggered that has the potential to tip the fragile balance in Syria towards conflict between Russia, Iran and Israel.

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The Russian military says an Israeli raid on Syria triggered a chain of events that led to its Il-20 plane being shot down by a Syrian S-200 surface-to-air missile. Moscow reserves the right to respond accordingly.

Russian Defense Ministry spokesman Maj. Gen. Igor Konashenkov said…

“Israel did not warn the command of the Russian troops in Syria about the planned operation. We received a notification via a hotline less than a minute before the strike, which did not allow the Russian aircraft to be directed to a safe zone.”

The statement by the Russian Defense Ministry said that four Israeli F-16 fighter jets attacked targets in Syria’s Latakia after approaching from the Mediterranean.

The Israeli warplanes approached at a low altitude and “created a dangerous situation for other aircraft and vessels in the region.”

The statement further said that 15 Russian military service members have died as a result…

“The Israeli pilots used the Russian plane as cover and set it up to be targeted by the Syrian air defense forces. As a consequence, the Il-20, which has radar cross-section much larger than the F-16, was shot down by an S-200 system missile.”

According to reports from RT, the Russian military said that the French Navy’s frigate ‘Auvergne,’ as well as a Russian Il-20 plane were in the area during the Israeli operation.

Map of the incident on September 17 in Syria provided by the Russian defense ministry.

The Russian ministry said the Israelis must have known that the Russian plane was present in the area, but this did not stop them from executing “the provocation.” Israel also failed to warn Russia about the planned operation in advance. The warning came just a minute before the attack started, which “did not leave time to move the Russian plane to a safe area,”the statement said.

The statement gives a larger death toll than earlier reports by the Russian military, which said there were 14 crew members on board the missing Il-20. It said a search and rescue operation for the shot-down plane is underway.

A later update said debris from the downed plane was found some 27km off the Latakia coast. The search party collected some body parts, personal possessions of the crew, and fragments of the plane.

Meanwhile Israel has come out to blame the Syrian government for the downing of the military plane, according to an IDF statement.

Israel said that it “expresses sorrow for the death of the aircrew members” of the Russian plane. However, it stated that the government of Bashar Assad “whose military shot down the Russian plane,” is “fully responsible” for the incident.

Israel further blamed Iran and Hezbollah for the incident.

The Israel Defense Forces (IDF) explained that its jets were targeting a Syrian facility “from which systems to manufacture accurate and lethal weapons were about to be transferred on behalf of Iran to Hezbollah in Lebanon.”

Israel claimed that the weapons were “meant to attack Israel.”

Via RT

The IDF assumed that the Syrian anti-air batteries “fired indiscriminately” and didn’t “bother to ensure that no Russian planes were in the air.” The Israelis said that when the Syrian military launched the missiles which hit the Russian plane, its own jets were already within Israeli airspace. “During the strike against the target in Latakia, the Russian plane that was then hit was not within the area of the operation.”

According to the Israeli military, both IDF and Russia have “a deconfliction system,” which was agreed upon by the leadership of both states, and “has proven itself many times over recent years.” The system was in use when the incident happened, the IDF stated. The IDF promised to share “all the relevant information” with Russia “to review the incident and to confirm the facts in this inquiry.”

The military presented a four-point initial inquiry into events in Latakia. It insisted that “extensive and inaccurate” Syrian anti-aircraft fire caused the Russian jet “to be hit and downed.”

The Russian Il-20 aircraft, with 15 crew on board, went off radar during an attack by four Israeli jets on Syria’s Latakia province late Monday. Later on Tuesday the Russian Defense Ministry said that an Israeli raid on Syria triggered a chain of events that led to its plane being shot down by a Syrian S-200 surface-to-air missile.

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Trump Orders Immediate Release Of All Text Messages, Carter Page FISA Application From Russia Investigation

Trump has ordered the DOJ to release all text messages related to the Russia investigation with no redactions.

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Via Zerohedge

President Trump has ordered the Department of Justice to release all text messages related to the Russia investigation with no redactions, of former FBI Director James Comey, his deputy Andrew McCabe, now-fired special agent Peter Strzok, former FBI attorney Lisa Page and twice-demoted DOJ official Bruce Ohr.

Also released will be specific pages from the FBI’s FISA surveillance warrant application on former Trump campaign aide Carter Page, as well as interviews with Ohr.

The statement reads in full:

“At the request of a number of committees of Congress, and for reasons of transparency, the President has directed the Office of the Director of National Intelligence and the Department of Justice (including the FBI) to provide for the immediate declassification of the following materials: (1) pages 10-12 and 17-34 of the June 2017 application to the FISA court in the matter of Carter W. Page; (2) all FBI reports of interviews with Bruce G. Ohr prepared in connection with the Russia investigation; and (3) all FBI reports of interviews prepared in connection with all Carter Page FISA applications.

In addition, President Donald J. Trump has directed the Department of Justice (including the FBI) to publicly release all text messages relating to the Russia investigation, without redaction, of James Comey, Andrew McCabe, Peter Strzok, Lisa Page, and Bruce Ohr

***

As we reported last Monday, Trump had been expected to release the documents any time – with specific attention to the Page documents and the “investigative activities of Justice Department lawyer Bruce Ohr” – who was demoted twice for lying about his extensive relationship  with Christopher Steele – the former MI6 spy who assembled the sham “Steele Dossier” used by the FBI in a FISA surveillance application to spy on Page.

Republicans on the House Intelligence and Judiciary committees believe the declassification will permanently taint the Trump-Russia investigation by showing the investigation was illegitimate to begin with. Trump has been hammering the same theme for months.

  • They allege that Bruce Ohr played an improper intermediary role between the Justice Department, British spy Christopher Steele and Fusion GPS — the opposition research firm that produced the Trump-Russia dossier, funded by Democrats. (Ohr’s wife, Nellie, worked for Fusion GPS on Russia-related matters during the presidential election — a fact that Ohr did not disclose on federal forms.)
  • And they further allege that the Obama administration improperly spied on Carter Page — all to take down Trump. –Axios

Ohr, meanwhile, met with Russian billionaire Oleg Deripaska in 2015 to discuss helping the FBI with organized crime investigations, according to The Hill‘s John Solomon. The meeting with the Putin ally was facilitated by Steele.

Last month Trump called Ohr a disgrace, while also tweeting: “Will Bruce Ohr, whose family received big money for helping to create the phony, dirty and discredited Dossier, ever be fired from the Jeff Sessions  “Justice” Department? A total joke!”

Trump’s threat came one day after two tweets about Ohr, noting a connection to former FBI agent Peter Strzok, as well as a text sent by Ohr after former FBI Director James Comey was fired in which Ohr says “afraid they will be exposed.”

According to emails turned over to Congressional investigators in August, Christopher Steele was much closer to Bruce Ohr and his wife Nellie than previously disclosed.

Steele and the Ohrs would have breakfast together on July 30, 2016 at the Mayflower Hotel in downtown Washington D.C., days after Steele turned in installments of his infamous “dossier” on July 19 and 26. The breakfast also occurred one day before the FBI formally launched operation “Crossfire Hurricane,” the agency’s counterintelligence operation into the Trump campaign.

“Great to see you and Nellie this morning Bruce,” Steele wrote shortly following their breakfast meeting. “Let’s keep in touch on the substantive issues/s (sic). Glenn is happy to speak to you on this if it would help.”

“After two years of investigations and accusations from both sides of the aisle about what documents indicate, it is past time for documents to be declassified and let the American people decide for themselves if DoJ and FBI acted properly,” Freedom Caucus chairman Mark Meadows told Axios earlier Sunday.

In early August, journalist Paul Sperry tweeted that Trump may use his presidential authority to declassify “20 redacted pages of a June, 2017 FISA renewal, “and possibly” 63 pages of emails and notes between “Ohr & Steele,” and FD-302 summaries of 12 interviews.”

President Trump threatened to declassify documents two weeks ago – one day after the New York Times allegedly published an anonymous Op-Ed claiming to be from a White House official claiming to be part of an unelected “resistance” cabal within the Trump administration.

“The Deep State and the Left, and their vehicle, the Fake News Media, are going Crazy – & they don’t know what to do,” Trump tweeted earlier this month, adding: “The Economy is booming like never before, Jobs are at Historic Highs, soon TWO Supreme Court Justices & maybe Declassification to find Additional Corruption. Wow!”

Trump’s threat comes as calls by frustrated GOP legislators to release the documents have hit a fevered pitch. Spearheading the effort are Republican Reps. Meadows, Jim Jordan, Matt Gaetz and Lee Zeldin – who have repeatedly asked Trump to declassify more of the heavily redacted FISA surveillance warrant on former Trump campaign aide Carter Page in late 2016.

In June, Republicans on the House Intelligence Committee asked President Trump to declassify key sections of Carter Page’s FISA warrant application, according to a letter obtained by Fox News.

Carter Page, the DOJ/FBI’s person of interest, weighed in on the matter in late August, tweeting: “The Corrupt DOJ, co-conspirators in the DNC and their high-priced consultants correctly believed they had American democracy and the FISA Court over a barrel in 2016.”

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De-Dollarization Tops Agenda at Russia’s Eastern Economic Forum

The Eastern Economic Forum (EEF) was held in Vladivostok on Sept.11-13. Founded in 2015, the event has become a platform for planning and launching projects to strengthen business ties in the Asia-Pacific region.

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Via Strategic Culture

This year, the EEF brought together delegations from over 60 countries to discuss the topic “The Far East: Expanding the Range of Possibilities”. A total of 100 business events involving over 6,000 participants were held during the three days.

1,357 media personnel worked to cover the forum. Last year, the number of participants was 5,000 with 1,000 media persons involved in reporting and broadcasting. The EEF-18 gathered 340 foreign and 383 Russian CEOs. Nearly 80 start-ups from across South-East Asia joined the meeting.

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This year, a total of 175 agreements worth of 2.9 trillion rubles (some $4.3 billion) were signed. For comparison, the sum was 2.5 trillion rubles (roughly $3.7 billion) in 2017.

They included the development of the Baimsky ore deposits in Chukotka, the construction of a terminal for Novatek LNG at Bechevinskaya Bay in Kamchatka and the investment of Asian countries in Russia’s agricultural projects in the Far East.

Russian Direct Investment Fund (RDIF), Mail.Ru Group, Megafon and Chinese Alibaba inked an agreement on establishing AliExpress trade joint venture. Rosneft and Chinese CNPC signed an oil exploration agreement.

The Chinese delegation was the largest (1,096 people), followed by the Japanese (570 members). The list of guests included the president of Mongolia and prime ministers of Japan and South Korea.

It was also the first time Chinese President Xi Jinping attended the event to meet his Russian counterpart. The issue of de-dollarization topped the agenda. Russia and China reaffirmed their interest in expanding the use of national currencies in bilateral deals.

During the forum, Kirill Dmitriev, the head of RDIF, said the fund intends to use only national currencies in its transactions with China starting from 2019. It will cooperate with the China Development Bank.

This “yuanification” is making visible progress with Shanghai crude futures increasing their share of oil markets up to 14 percent or even more. China has signed agreements with Canada and Qatar on national currencies exchange.

READ MORE: Eastern Economic Forum opens new chapter in US-Russia dialogue

De-dollarization is a trend that is picking up momentum across the world. A growing number of countries are interested in replacing the dollar. Russia is leading the race to protect itself from fluctuations, storms and US-waged trade wars and sanctions.

Moscow backs non-dollar trade with Ankara amid the ongoing lira crisis. Turkey is switching from the dollar to settlements in national currencies, including its trade with China and other countries. Ditching the US dollar is the issue topping the BRICS agenda. In April, Iran transferred all international payments to the euro.

The voices calling for de-dollarization are getting louder among America’s closest European allies. In August, German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas called for the creation of a new payments system independent of the US.

According to him, Europe should not allow the United States to act “over our heads and at our expense.” The official wants to strengthen European autonomy by establishing independent payment channels, creating a European Monetary Fund and building up an independent SWIFT system.

Presenting his annual program, European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker called on Sept. 12 for the European Union to promote the euro as a global currency to challenge the dollar.

According to him, “We must do more to allow our single currency to play its full role on the international scene.” Mr. Juncker believes “it is absurd that Europe pays for 80 percent of its energy import bill – worth 300 billion euros a year – in US dollars when only roughly 2 percent of our energy imports come from the United States.” He wants the raft of proposals made in his state of the union address to start being implemented before the European Parliament elections in May.

70% of all world trade transactions account for the dollar, while 20% are  settled in the euro, and the rest falls on the yuan and other Asian currencies. The dollar value is high to make the prices of consumer goods in the US artificially low. The demand for dollars allows refinancing the huge debt at low interest rates. The US policy of trade wars and sanctions has triggered the global process of de-dollarization.

Using punitive measures as a foreign policy tool is like shooting oneself in the foot. It prompts a backlash to undermine the dollar’s status as the world reserve currency – the basis of the US economic might. The aggressive policy undermines the US world standing to make it weaker, not stronger.

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