Share This Page

Report: China would likely block unification of Koreas

| Saturday, Jan. 19, 2013, 6:46 p.m.

TOKYO — A recent report by Senate Republican staff members warns that China, because of its deepening economic ties with North Korea as well as its ancient claims on Korean land, could attempt to “manage, and conceivably block,” an eventual unification between the two Koreas, if ever the Kim family falls from power in Pyongyang.

The report was released last month with little fanfare, but North Korea watchers say it gives voice to an increasingly popular but still-sensitive sentiment: that China will ultimately try to prevent the South from absorbing the North, the long assumed post-collapse scenario.

Such a situation is well down the road, experts say, but it resonates at a time when China is playing an aggressive role elsewhere in the region, staking claim to much of the South China Sea and to islands administered by Japan.

China might act with similar aggression in North Korea, the report argues, to “safeguard its own commercial assets, and to assert its right to preserve the northern part of the peninsula within China's sphere of influence.”

The report was written primarily by Keith Luse, an East Asia specialist who worked as an aide for the recently defeated Sen. Dick Lugar, R-Ind., who had been a member of the Senate Committee on Foreign Relations with a long-standing interest in North Korea. The minority staff report, Luse said in an email, was written to inform committee members — including Sen. John Kerry, D-Mass., nominated by President Obama as the next secretary of State — “to not expect an East-West Germany repeat situation” regarding unification between the Koreas.

The tight connection between China and North Korea represents a major policy challenge both for the Obama administration and for the incoming government in South Korea.

Outside analysts see no clear sign of instability in North Korea, under third-generation leader Kim Jong Un. But the report lays out how China might respond if North Korea is teetering or collapsing. China could send its own troops into North Korea to prevent a mass exodus of refugees, the report says, citing conversations between Chinese officials and Senate staff. China might also try to use a protracted United Nations process to determine which nation — China or South Korea — has legitimate authority over the North.

“Anybody who is a serious analyst can't discount this as a plausible scenario,” said Victor Cha, the Korea chair at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, referring to the general argument of the report.

TribLIVE commenting policy

You are solely responsible for your comments and by using TribLive.com you agree to our Terms of Service.

We moderate comments. Our goal is to provide substantive commentary for a general readership. By screening submissions, we provide a space where readers can share intelligent and informed commentary that enhances the quality of our news and information.

While most comments will be posted if they are on-topic and not abusive, moderating decisions are subjective. We will make them as carefully and consistently as we can. Because of the volume of reader comments, we cannot review individual moderation decisions with readers.

We value thoughtful comments representing a range of views that make their point quickly and politely. We make an effort to protect discussions from repeated comments either by the same reader or different readers

We follow the same standards for taste as the daily newspaper. A few things we won't tolerate: personal attacks, obscenity, vulgarity, profanity (including expletives and letters followed by dashes), commercial promotion, impersonations, incoherence, proselytizing and SHOUTING. Don't include URLs to Web sites.

We do not edit comments. They are either approved or deleted. We reserve the right to edit a comment that is quoted or excerpted in an article. In this case, we may fix spelling and punctuation.

We welcome strong opinions and criticism of our work, but we don't want comments to become bogged down with discussions of our policies and we will moderate accordingly.

We appreciate it when readers and people quoted in articles or blog posts point out errors of fact or emphasis and will investigate all assertions. But these suggestions should be sent via e-mail. To avoid distracting other readers, we won't publish comments that suggest a correction. Instead, corrections will be made in a blog post or in an article.