Kim Jong-Un conducted his country’s sixth nuclear test, this time experimenting with an ICBM-capable hydrogen bomb that’s reportedly the strongest munition that it’s ever wielded. Analysts had been warning that a move such as this could have been expected for some time, but it nevertheless caught observers off guard that it occurred right on the eve of China’s BRICS Summit in Xiamen.
This fact alone disproves the Mainstream Media-promulgated lie that North Korea is purportedly China’s puppet, since Beijing in no way approves of what just happened and is actually incensed that the young Kim is trying to steal the spotlight during the most important event that the People’s Republic has hosted all year. Just a few months ago during the Belt and Road Summit, Kim did the same thing, except that time he provocatively test-fired a missile instead.
He’s clearly outdone himself this time with the H-Bomb test, which was a message to China just as much as it was one to the US. Everyone’s aware of why Pyongyang and Washington are at odds, but comparatively few people even recognize that there’s an ever-widening chasm of distrust between China and North Korea.
There was a time when North Korea was solidly under Chinese influence, but those days are long gone, especially now that Kim Jong-Un is in charge. The youthful leader (or the junta behind him, depending on who the reader believes is truly calling the shots in the Hermit Kingdom) has figured out that he can extract concessions more successfully from China than from the US, but has overplayed his hand and is now in danger of losing it all.
China’s security interests vis-a-vis North Korea are simple enough — prevent the US military from ever again reaching the banks of the Yalu River like during the early days of the Korean War (which implies working against a reunification solution that could allow just that), and uphold stability in North Korea through food and other forms of limited aid in order to avoid a human tidal wave of Weapons of Mass Migration swarming across the border if the state collapses.
North Korea acutely understands this state of affairs, hence why it assumed that it could do whatever it wanted in terms of weapons tests and the like while taking the aforesaid Chinese aid for granted, but that appears to be changing now because of just how much he’s embarrassed China, which admittedly seems to have been on purpose.
It can never be known with any certain degree of accuracy what Kim Jong-Un or his junta backers are thinking, but observations about North Korea’s behavior suggest that it’s intentionally trying to irk China a bit because it might have gotten too paranoid about the prospects of Beijing cutting a deal with Washington against Pyongyang. Ironically, however, North Korea appears to be making this fear a self-fulfilling prophecy through its short-term actions of always trying to upstage China in the international arena.
Instead of resulting in more aid, which for all intents and purposes serves the role of bribes for the North Korean “deep state” (permanent military, intelligence, and diplomatic bureaucracies), Kim Jong-Un risks forcing China to downscale the said assistance in order to save face in front of the international community and consequently endanger the stability of his country.
As respectable of a goal as the Juche self-reliance ideology may be, it’s practically impossible for North Korea to implement under contemporary international conditions because it lacks the natural and agricultural resources to do so, thereby making its survival dependent on China for the foreseeable future, and trapping Beijing in a relationship of complex interdependency that the US is more than eager to exploit to its gain.
Washington never misses the chance to draw attention to this relationship in order to pressure Beijing to “do more” against Pyongyang, knowing full well that the only outcome of this policy is that China would decrease or cut off its aid to North Korea and resultantly destabilize its most unpredictable and nuclear-armed neighbor. The end goal, as the US hopes it will be, is to redirect or at least “rebalance” some of North Korea’s military attention against its former patron, which might be an implied American precondition for holding the one-on-one talks that Kim Jong-Un has said that he wants.
The only scenario in which North Korea would lash out against China is if the latter goes along with US suggestions in squeezing the country through a diminishment of aid, which could endanger its stability to the point of putting Beijing in Pyongyang’s nuclear crosshairs just as Seoul, Tokyo, and Guam currently are.
If the US felt that it had successfully turned the two former allies into hated enemies just like it did with the USSR and China in the Old Cold War and is actively working to do as regards China and India in the New Cold War, then it’s expected that Washington would tone down its hostility towards Pyongyang and possibly reinitiate one-on-one talks, keenly understanding that this would unbalance North Korea’s military attention for the time being by making it relatively more concentrated against Beijing in that case.
The point here isn’t to actually resolve North Korea’s nuclear weapons issue, but to simply redirect or “rebalance” the targeted focus against China, in which case could the West would then attempt to replace Beijing as North Korea’s most important donor and reverse the complex interdependency relationship.
It should be remembered at all times that if North Korea’s small number of nuclear weapons are a credible deterrent to the US, then they’re even more effective in this capacity against China, which has comparatively less nuclear potential than America and is much easier for North Korea to inflict substantial damage against due to its obvious geographic proximity.
For this reason alone, it’s plausible that the US is attempting to manipulate North Korea into behaving belligerently against China in order to achieve this dreamed-of goal, but that this can only happen if Washington is able to engineer the circumstances under which Beijing would instrumentalize its vital aid to Pyongyang as a punishment for its missile and nuclear tests, ergo the recent US provocations which pushed North Korea into testing its H-Bomb on the eve of China’s BRICS Summit.
Should the US-controlled Mainstream Media succeed in shaping the perception that Kim’s latest nuclear test overshadowed China’s BRICS Summit, then Beijing might fall into the trap of de-facto sanctioning North Korea via a dramatic downscaling of its aid in order to save face before the international community, though with the inadvertent risk of becoming the new object of Kim Jong-Un’s ire if this move ends up seriously threatening the stability of his government.
There’s no “good way” to deal with North Korea, and it might turn out that this is the “least bad” option that China has available, but either way, the consequences of this action hold the very real threat of backfiring on Beijing and working out to the US and, interestingly enough, even Kim Jong-Un’s grand strategic favor if both play their cards right and cut the ultimate “win-win” deal against the People’s Republic.
DISCLAIMER: The author writes for this publication in a private capacity which is unrepresentative of anyone or any organization except for his own personal views. Nothing written by the author should ever be conflated with the editorial views or official positions of any other media outlet or institution.