Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Is Beijing Using North Korea again?

Apparently out of the blue, Stalinist regime in northern Korea shelled Yeonpeyong Island in the democratic part of the country (a.k.a. South Korea). The rest of world is trying to come to terms with the shock. There are at least two death as of 8AM EST. The White House "strongly condemned" (MSN India) the attack, but hasn't had much time to react beyond posturing.

Analysts are fishing for explanations, but the most popular one is that this has something to do with the power struggle within the regime. As Iain Martin put it, shelling a South Korean island is "what passes for a campaign ad in North Korean politics."

I'm not so sure, or to be more precise, I don't think that's the only reason. As much as people would like to think the regime in charge of northern Korea is a lone wolf unable to control or even understand, that regime is wholly dependent on the Chinese Communist Party for its survival. Moreover, the CCP prefers its allies and satellites take full blame or credit for their antics, as it turns Beijing into the "good police state" and enable them to extract more concessions from the democratic world (this is why the ChiComs' closest ally in the Middle East is the Iranian mullahcracy, but I digress).

In fact, there's almost no way a move like this wouldn't get green-lighted by the CCP; keep in mind, the Communists have even gone so far as to make a historical claim to northern Korea as Chinese territory, in part to make it clear who's boss and in part to lay the groundwork for a possible annexation if the Stalinist regime becomes more trouble than its worth.

So, this begs the question: why did the CCP let this happen? For that, we have to look at the last year in eastern Asia.

Amidst the European bailouts, the bizzare "reset" with Russia, the war in Afghanistan and Iraq, and the numerous domestic issues the decided the November elections, little attention has been paid to the western Pacific. However, events there have been dramatic, and dramatically unexpected.

It began when the CCP tried to declare the South China Sea as its own lake. As expected, numerous nations in Southeast Asia cried foul. Not so expectedly, the United States - led by the American apologist President and the Secretary of State whose husband was arguably the Communists' best friend in the White House - responded, essentially, "No."

One can only imagine the shock in Zhongnanhai from that.

Perhaps the Communists believed that this was mere posturing for the voters. That notion disappeared with the President's post-election tour of Asia (India, Indonesia, South Korea, and Japan). It could have been called the China Containment Tour. Now we're hearing elected officials inside and outside the Administration slanging the CCP for their deliberately devalued currency, and while the criticisms stem from economic confusion rather than geopolitical clarity, that's a distinction without a difference to Hu Jintao et al.

In short, the Chinese Communist regime has watched, likely in subdued horror, as Barack Obama's government moved - haltingly, and with some stumbles, but unmistakably - towards the most anti-Communist Asia policy in twenty years. It has been, almost literally, Nixon-goes-to-China in reverse.

So, now the CCP - and the rest of us - will see if the Administration's newfound and quasi-accidental policy will come with newfound resolve. It won't be as easy as it sounds initially. In Southeast Asia, the President's backbone was widely applauded, especially in Indonesia (in an even more painful irony for the CCP, Obama's time there may be driving his policy in the region). Japan, by contrast, has a center-left government with a more accomodationist policy towards Beijing (although South Korea does not).

This is a critical moment. If Obama follows precedent, i.e., comes hat-in-hand to the CCP to enlist its help in "controlling" Kim Jong-il and his would-be successors, then things will come back to normal in East Asia (and that's not good). However, if the President follows his instincts from Southeast Asia, it could dramatically alter the global balance - and in America's favor.

Nixon's fervent anti-Communist history made him practically the only American politician who could reach out to the CCP. Conversely, Obama's left-wing history may make him the best-equipped American leader to take the CCP on. I believe the ChiComs condoned this incident in the hope to prevent the above from happening. Time will tell if they were right; if not, the Chinese people may get a surprising boost in their fight to take their country back from the Communist regime that enslaves them.

Cross-posted to the right-wing liberal

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