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Articles on North Korea after 2018
Is North Korea about to Dump China for the USA?
Articles on North Korea before 2018

  • (april 2018) Is North Korea about to Dump China for the USA?.
    There is a serious chance that North Korea could move closer to the USA than to China. The West has largely read the recent overtures by North Korea's dictator Kim as a result of belated Chinese pressures. The truth is that first Kim decided to announce his willingness to have meetings with his South Korean counterpart and even with Trump in person, and later he had a meeting with China's president Xi. You can read this story upside down: China got worried that North Korea was getting a bit too cozy towards the USA and its South Korean ally, and summoned Kim to Beijing to find out what was going on. China is in the middle of a trade war with the USA and doesn't have a lot of motivation to represent US interests in the Korean peninsula: it would have the exact opposite interest. It is more likely that Kim has so far gotten everything he wanted and is calculating what his next step could be now that the US president recognizes him as a great leader (Trump called him "very honorable"). Kim has achieved nuclear capabilities. Kim has developed missiles that can seriously damage US military personnel and resources. Kim has obtained a meeting with Trump as if North Korea were equal to the USA, a meeting that is reminiscent of past meetings between presidents of the USA and of the Soviet Union. He has international recognition. He meets with China's president. He will soon meet with South Korea's president. He is driving the diplomatic effort, constantly catching the USA off-guard. My guess is that China too has been caught off-guard and is seriously worried about what Kim has in mind. China has always taken for granted that North Korea would never betrayed it. After all, Chinese soldiers died to defend North Korea from the USA. After all, China has remained for more than 60 years the only reliable ally of North Korea. But that could be wishful thinking.
    Kim just announced a new policy for North Korea: having acquired nuclear status, he now wants to turn North Korea into an economic success story like China. There isn't a single success story in the world that didn't have the USA has an economic partner. China can boast as much as it likes about its progress and innovation, but its economic boom was largely driven by exports to the USA, just like Japan, South Korea, Taiwan and the whole of Europe. Kim is certainly aware that the USA is still the biggest importer in the world, whereas China only imports natural resources (which North Korea doesn't have). If Kim wants North Korea to become a world exporter, China is not a partner: China will be a competitor. His natural partner would be the USA. If Kim truly wants an economic boom in North Korea, he has to do what Vietnam did. Vietnam, an old US enemy with a communist regime, staged a dramatic pivot that quickly moved it closer to the USA than to (fellow communist) China. And, sure enough, today Vietnam has one of the fastest growing economies in the world. Oddly enough, communist Vietnam is now closer to its old enemy USA than to communist China.
    That could be what truly worries China. Kim has always been unpredictable, but his moves have consistently be very rational. He has outsmarted just about everybody, and got precisely what he wanted. Could it be that now he wants to ditch China and become a good friend of the USA in return for economic development? The USA is a free country in which every business is free to do what it wants: if North Korea starts making shoes, robots and electronic chips cheaper than China, US business will gladly buy them from North Korea... as long as the USA removes the sanctions that it has slapped on North Korea. Will China ditch its own shoes, robots and electronic chips and buy them from North Korea? Not any time soon. There is a serious chance that in Kim's mind it doesn't really make a difference where he gets what he wants. When he wanted international recognition, he needed China's protection, and he got it. But now he wants economic development and he is more likely to find it in a partnership with the USA.
    Kim is certainly aware that the Korean peninsula can get reunited only if his regime falls. The chances that the South Koreans adopt a totalitarian communist regime are virtually zero (and, should that happen, the dictator would be unlikely to desire reunification with the dictator of the North). Therefore a reunification can happen only if North Korea moves closer to the USA. Kim may think that, longer term, a reunification plan will become viable if both Koreas are friends of the USA. As long as one is an ally of the USA and the other is an ally of China, this won't happen. The reason to be allied with China was to have a protector against the USA, but now North Korea can protect itself, thanks to its nuclear weapons and mid-range missiles: does it still need China?

    The scary thing for the USA is that Kim and Trump will meet: that will be a meeting between one of the smartest politicians in the world, Kim, and one of the dumbest, most incompetent and most corrupt politicians in the world, Trump. The meeting could end with Kim getting from Trump so many concessions that the USA will become an ally of North Korea, serving the goals of North Korea, instead of the other way around. That could be precisely what worries China: not so much the intentions of Kim but the gullible incompetence of Trump.

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