North Korea’s “Soft Landing”

Reports that North Korea has been conducting successful nuclear tests have recently rattled the Western world. Of course, this is an international security issue, and one that the United States should remain on alert. However, North Korea’s nuclear capability is simply a deterrent, used to ensure the Kim regime of its survival in a world, where it only has China as a lukewarm ally. Many argue that the real danger North Korea poses is if its Kim regime collapses. This scenario would create an exodus of millions of refugees, many of whom would head to China, but also to South Korea, thus creating a refugee problem no nation would want on its borders. There is also the danger of the country’s nuclear arsenal falling into rogue hands in the resultant power vacuum.

For this reason, China continues to prop up its neighbor with substantial food and economic aid, despite that North Korea offers incredibly little in return to China in its trade relations (mostly because North Korea has little to spare). This preserves the status quo, helping the Kim regime stand on its own feet and saving the region from a security disaster. Ultimately though, this is a losing battle for China. It only isolates itself from the international community by continuing to support a rogue state that is increasingly condemned for its nuclear tests and antagonizes South Korea and Japan. Normally, this in itself would not be a terrible consequence for China; however, this comes at a time when China should be forging peace with all its neighbors in the face of its strong economic rise.

There is still that remote possibility that North Korea will reform. It has been speculated that Kim Jong Un, the third and current generation of the Kim regime, is interested in reforming his nation’s economy to include small scale improvements. This has already been happening in the country for quite for a few years, where merchants privately sell goods for a profit in the black market. It has been speculated that if Kim Jong Un were to liberalize the economy through the government, it could pave the way for a sort of “soft landing,” one that changes the status quo, but doesn’t end in an implosion. If this were to happen though, the Kim regime would do all it can to ensure it remains firmly in power. This may be the best bet for China as it can secure its national interests and not compromise its support for the regime to the world. If it can also aid North Korea in the process, it can use that as even greater leverage over its nuclear weapons program. The United States can then use that to diplomatically bring an end to this recurring problem, since it is in fact a mutual problem of both China and the U.S.

China can ultimately live with the current reality for quite some time. There have been no major signs of regime or social collapse and Kim Jon Un has successfully shown that he can hold on to power. His regime is also the world’s first Communist dynasty. Small-scale reform within the country does seem a good alternative for China, one that it can help North Korea with along the way, but the Kim regime would still do everything it can to hold onto power. Still, if North Korea’s economy were to liberalize even a little bit, it might at least quell the hunger of its people.

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