05 October 2009

China and North Korea

There has been a lot of activity in Northeast Asia this past weekend, and I've been trying to process it all.

1) 60th anniversary PRC military parade: As I think the pictures here show, it is definitely the missile age. Every land picture is of some kind of mobile missile system. I've seen a few other pictures with military men and women marching, and even one of tanks, but all of the new equipment being shown off is missile-related. Even many of the Naval shots are of PLAN vessels firing missiles.

2) I agree with the general consensus that Wen Jiabao's visit to North Korea shows how serious China is about maintaining relations with North Korea, come what may. However, it must be kept in mind that China (even more so than South Korea) is in no position to handle the flood of migrants who will end up in China should the DPRK collapse. I am still not convinced of the strength of the regime there. I do hope, however, that something productive can come from the talks there.

3) I'm fascinated by the idea of "forced repatriation," particularly as it was the sticking point in the negotiations at the end of the Korean War. We're seeing it again in Korea. Recently, 11 people managed to take a boat and sail to South Korea, and the North is demanding that South Korea return them. South Korea has refused to force them back to North Korea, and I support that refusal. In fact, all developed countries who believe (even in theory) in freedom of movement should support that move. Even while many countries have strict anti-immigration laws, they all agree that no one should be forced to live in a country they hate. This is codified in US law (the Jackson-Vanik amendment), and respected by most countries. If I may be all constructivist for a second, this is not a norm that should be undermined. More interesting, however, if why North Korea would want them back. Obviously, they broke DPRK law by leaving, and would not be allowed with the rest of the population. (I am certain that telling the other North Koreans about what the South is really like is not something Kim and co. want.) I'm assuming the point it to deter anyone else from leaving as well, or to coerce other countries into making it harder for people to leave. However, it's much likelier just to further inflame opinion against the DPRK. Perhaps the strategic thinking is that world opinion cannot really go any lower, but it still seems a waste of international power and attention to try to force the return of these defectors.

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