Moon of Alabama Brecht quote
March 10, 2013

Predictions Of A Changing China Fail

On February 12 the NYT claimed that North Korea's Nuclear Test Poses Big Challenge to China’s New Leader. It set off with a false choice:
The nuclear test by North Korea on Tuesday, in defiance of warnings by China, leaves the new Chinese leader, Xi Jinping, with a choice: Does he upset North Korea just a bit by agreeing to stepped up United Nations sanctions, or does he rattle the regime by pulling the plug on infusions of Chinese oil and investments that keep North Korea afloat?
I rejected the speculations in that piece and explained that while China might join some mild UN sanctions, as it later did, it has no interest in really pressing North Korea:
China needs North Korea as a buffer against U.S. troops at its borders. It will not do anything to ruin North Korea as a chaotic and dissolving neighbor would be a huge security problem for Beijing.

As nothing in those circumstances changed, I reasoned, China's policy on North Korea would not change.

Now China is saying exactly that:

China’s foreign minister said Saturday that Beijing would not abandon North Korea, reiterating China’s longstanding position that dialogue, not sanctions, is the best way to persuade the North to abandon its nuclear weapons.

At a news conference during the National People’s Congress, the foreign minister, Yang Jiechi, suggested that Chinese support for tougher United Nations sanctions against North Korea should not be interpreted as a basic change in China’s attitude.

China has always seen North Korea as a buffer zone and it will continue to do so as long as needed. Besides that it also likes the coal and iron ore it imports from North Korea at favorable prices. Even if North Korea again starts some clashes with South Korea, as it seems likely to do soon, China will not overtly interfere unless North Korea's existence in endangered.

The permanent speculation of a "western" turn of China's policies is nonsense. China has its own interests, often divert from "western" ones, and China is capable of pursuing its interests with its own policies.

Posted by b on March 10, 2013 at 18:39 UTC | Permalink


Good call, b. As usual.

I am repeatedly astonished at the lack of independent thinking in the US mainstream media. They appear to have a 'wonky' view of what is going on in the world. What makes it worse is that they probably believe it.

Posted by: FB Ali | Mar 10 2013 21:23 utc | 1


Pretty much to the point.

Concerning the americans wet dreams it should be considered, though, that the vast majority of them are either stupid or arrogant (or both) enough to *really* see the us as the center of the world. To them, I experienced that again and again, the assumption that everyone on earth is bound to please them is (tragicomically ) realistic.

Btw. I do not even think that the Chinese build a trap or have their new president "forget" the sanctions. I'd rather assume that it was merely a mixture of an (insignificant) tactical step and politeness (the tactical step being to not always be perceived as almost reliably "anti-american". Factually, I'm pretty sure plain *nothing* changes in their relation with NK.

Not yet knowing any details, ad "tactical step", part 2:

China has now for some years (together with Russia) blocked quite some usa attempts at the UN. "Giving in" now concerning NK (albeit to rather soft sanctions) might quite well be in the context of Iran/Syria (along the line "See, we do not block everything. We said OK to your NK sanctions"). Of course, NK is the perfect case because how the f*ck could the usa verify (or even less control) if and how China really implements or rather circumvents the sanctions against its direct neighbour? Actually, looking at it from a pragmatic perspective, OK-ing the NK sanctions might even be a very cost effective way for China to get something more valuable almost for free.

Furthermore China might actually *want* the Obama government strong and looking good (and not in a need to attack NK (OK-ing the sanctions might well be interpreted as "don't worry too much. *we* take care of NK and keep it within limits)) as weakening Obama might well mean weakening Obamas seemingly rather diplomatic approach in two of the most urgent middle east matters: Iran and Palestine (which, of course, directly translates to put israel back into a somewhat more realistic position for a shitty little country).

Posted by: Mr. Pragma | Mar 10 2013 21:55 utc | 2

There are lots of fantasies in US serious media about everything. I presume that the reason that you take them seriously, and write articles, is to provoke your American audience - an objective which I completely understand.

The NYT has become a fantasy land, where America is victorious, and the US did not lose the war in Iraq. China is a country to be combatted, not negotiated with. No doubt North Korea is about to land, as in Red Dawn redux.

No doubt others of your readers will defend the NYT. I await their points of view.

Posted by: alexno | Mar 10 2013 22:15 utc | 3

Same old Lies.
Yeah, Yeah China is abandoning N Korea. Sounds familiar...

Every couple weeks we see a piece on how Russia has abandoned Assad.

Posted by: Hilmi Hakim | Mar 10 2013 22:33 utc | 4

"Even if North Korea again starts some clashes with South Korea, as it seems likely to do soon"

Again? In the past, North Korea responded to American aggression, which used South Korea as a proxy. The much propagandised north invasion of the south, which officially began the Korean war, was in reality a response from the north to end years of American incursions from the south, including the attack which it was a direct response to. It should be generally understood by now that western propaganda about their aggressions is always "justified" with phony rubbish about the "other guys" being the aggressors. From the lies about Spain sinking the USS Maine being used to facilitate public opinion for the American take over of Spanish colonies and the Philippine war, to Germany's staging a "Polish" attack in Germany to "justify" their invasion of Poland in 1939, to the famous Tonkin Gulf incident, these people will use any method they can to invent the sort of "reality" necessary to justify their criminal aggressions. The blanket lying they are doing with regard to Syria is nothing new, they are just getting more sophisticated over time and better able to implement "full spectrum dominance" with their propaganda arm, media. See:

Die for a Tie: How the Korean War Began

I.F. Stone's "The Hidden History of the Korean War, 1950-1951: A Nonconformist History of Our Times" will also provide information on the pre-war American aggressions in Korea. This aggression against Korea should be seen as part of the overall American strategy against China, the Korean peninsula being a staging ground for destabilisation aggression directed against China. See:


Posted by: вот так | Mar 10 2013 23:08 utc | 5

Here is my question: Does Russia + China = US (military)

Posted by: Hilmi Hakim | Mar 10 2013 23:41 utc | 6

Hilmi Hakim - 6

If you mean military strength, the answer is no. But the USA, together with its NATO colonies, are not strong enough to outright invade China or Russia, either. Only the USA really has the means to invade other countries which don't share borders with itself.

Posted by: вот так | Mar 10 2013 23:57 utc | 7

China doesn't need a buffer state, maybe it did once in the early fifties when the communists had just taken over in Beijing but since Nixons vist and moreso now because when NK goes in whatever fashion there also goes the figleaf that the US is there to protect the region from cold war communism, not only in Korea but Japan also. funny that the entire US NE asian strategy rests on having NK continue to exist.

Posted by: heath | Mar 11 2013 1:39 utc | 8

New Study: Journalists, Experts are Massive Bullshitters

Posted by: Paul | Mar 11 2013 5:20 utc | 9


Very useful article - thanks.

Posted by: вот так | Mar 11 2013 6:06 utc | 10

China does not need a buffer state, but I don't think it wants to share a border with a thriving capitalist state, which is why it watns to keep North Korea positioned between itself and the South.

Posted by: ralphieboy | Mar 11 2013 10:32 utc | 11

BotTak (7)

If you mean military strength, the answer is no. But the USA, together with its NATO colonies, are not strong enough to outright invade China or Russia, either. Only the USA really has the means to invade other countries which don't share borders with itself.

Concerning the last part you are quite right although there is another major factor usually overlooked. Only the usa is ignorant, criminal and arrogant enough to attack other countries in a purely aggressive way. Technically speaking, Russia and increasingly China have a, albeit somewhat limited, capability too.

Concerning the first part of your answer I'm afraid you are mistaken. One shouldn't forget that "military strength" - in a civilized world - formost means capability to enforce and defend legitimate national interest, first of all ones borders.

Sure the usa has a huge military budget, larger still than Russia, China, uk, France and some more combined. It could afford that only, though, because effectively other countres payed for it (because the usa abused the reserve currency status of their dollar). Nowadays the usa military budget is de facto working in favour of potential adversaries as was as the usa. This is because a usa military dollar is a dollar not spent on infrastructure, education, aso.
Furthermore there is a "financial factor" to be seen. Looking at modern systems the usa is spending ca. 5 - 10 times as much as Russia or China per a given item/capability.

Last but not least, it is not anymore true that the usa weapons and systems are better and or more modern than other ones. Russian Sukhoi fighters, for example are considered superior by many experts and have looked to too in manoeuvers.

But there is another and IMO far more important factor than weapon against weapon counts and comparisons: The basic paradigm. Somewhat simplifiying it ca be said that the usa have a basically aggressive approach where Russia and to a wide degree China have defensive approaches.
Actually the usa is supposed to have a rather weak defense for their country proper; certain events strongly support that assumption. But then, of course, neither Russia nor China would start an aggressive war against usa territory. If, however, the usa and/or their allies inkl. particularly criminal israel would start a major war or a minor one escalated, that option, after all a classical one, would be considered and the usa couldn't do much against it.
Part 2: While the usa relentlessly try to improve their aggressive capabilities and make a lot of bragging about their systems "superiority", quite often, there isn't much to be found behind the marketing blah. Their highest end AD system, for instance, is clearly inferior to the S-300 (not to speak of S-400 and the upcoming S500) in basically every major aspect.

A war is decided in the theaters it takes place. The hightest pobablity theaters aren't in the middle of antarctica but rather close by Russia and/or China. Both sides strategies are quite clear: the usa will - far from home - try to hold their position and to possibly attack. Russia and China will have one simple goal: To destroy the usa carrier groups (for which they are excellently equipped and against which the usa doesn't have too much in it's hands).

So, leaving theoretical numbers against numbers (budgets, weapons count, aso.) theaters and looking at highly probable ones, we should value the strenghts quite differently: While Russia and China do not have (and wanted not to have) major far abroad strike capabilities (other than ICBMs which make many paper considerations superfluous anyway, i.e. both Russia and China *have* the far abroad strike cap. they want and need, the final one), both Russia and (to a somewhat lower degree) China do have the capabilities need to repell a usa aggression and to destroy major parts of the usa forces.

Posted by: Mr. Pragma | Mar 11 2013 10:39 utc | 12

Thanks to all for an excellent thread, with many really good links and comments offered without making recourse to flaming or ad hominem arguments. Perhaps the auspicious initial comment by FB Ali set the collegial tone, which I, for one, have much appreciated. The redoubtable b certainly does his part to maintain the independence and openness of this site to a variety of points of view: It is really a pleasure to see his high standard for postings being complemented by other contributors.
With regard to US foreign policy in general, it does indeed seem immune to contamination by rational calculation of national interest under any definition of the latter that includes anything more than gratification of jejeune nationalism and service to moneyed interests and other potent lobbies.

Posted by: Hannah K. O'Luthon | Mar 11 2013 16:36 utc | 13

@ralphieboy (11) China may not be capitalist (though that is arguable) but thriving it certainly is. And as to trade relations with South Korea, Samsung is investing heavily in China.

Posted by: stagefright | Mar 12 2013 16:27 utc | 14

Ralphie Boy:China doesn’t fear a capitalist state in its face; it is already an uber-capitalist state itself, with just a nominal communist veneer.
United Korea a vibrant capitalist state? Not.
The price tag on reunification will cost plenty of sticker shock for the triumphant side (South Korea?), sure to drain whatever vibrancy out of the economy.
‘sides, a re-unified entity will need the vast Chinese hinterland for both resources and markets,plus possibly investments.
The presence of American troops & bases will be up for debate should the 38 parallel north line become history. One Korea wouldn’t want to piss off its new benefactor but – more importantly - neighboring Russia won’t be happy campers to have American missiles so close to its Eastern (and Western) rump.
Wasn’t it the ex-USSR that shot down a Korean civilian airliner that `strayed’ into its airspace? No telling what Putin or his successors will do, when American bases get uncomfortably near to the Yalu river. Parking some Russian missiles pointed in Seoul’s direction would be one of the friendlier things.
Don’t forget history as well: Korea was swallowed up as a Japanese colony with the connivance of the Uncle Sam - after Japan looked the other way when the US ate the Philippines for colonial lunch in the US-Spanish war.
Plus, it was Washington & Moscow that divided the peninsula anyway. Given that background, don’t count on too much love for US or its bases in a proudly independent Korea; there already isn’t.
Now, the question of Japan. With its historic Korean & Chinese rivals resurgent, Japan looks sidelined from the Asian mainstream & its Tier-A nation status, jittery.
It may seriously re-look its 19th century Leave Asia policy; of course when the short-lived premier Hatoyama tried to do that, his death warrant was sealed when his `manifesto’ was published by the New York Times.
It may take perhaps two decades, but China’s deft diplomacy in engaging the moderate forces, outflanking the entrenched Japanese right-wing eventually, & the natural pull of its economic gravity, will help restore Asia to its traditional order.
As the columnist Robert Kaplan opines (something like that), geography is destiny. US is not an Asian by nature and nominally a Pacific country by acts of force; it annexed Hawaii and seized Philippines in an invasion that killed tens of thousands.
The US has more to fear about losing influence in Asia, should North Korea collapse, than China.

Posted by: nakedtothebone | Mar 13 2013 16:23 utc | 15

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