North Korea Is Afraid Of America, But Should It Also Fear A Chinese Invasion?

North Korea Is Afraid Of America, But Should It Also Fear A Chinese Invasion?

Kyle Mizokami

Security, Asia

It could happen.

Key Point: China only has so much patience, and won’t let the entire peninsula fall into American hands.

North Korea is both a blessing and a curse for China. The Democratic People’s Republic of Korea is an independent state that is openly hostile to the United States and other regional powers. Pyongyang’s military is a deterrent to attack without posing a direct threat to China. As a result, nearly a thousand miles of China’s borders are occupied by a regime that finances its own defense and will never fall willingly within the U.S. sphere of influence.

The situation is far from perfect. While North Korea has traditionally been a Chinese client state, ties between the two countries have deteriorated in recent years. Pyongyang’s fiery anti-American rhetoric and nuclear weapons program have provoked the United States, making North Korea a major point of contention between Washington and Beijing. The country’s flagrant violation of international norms have tested Beijing’s patience.

There are persistent rumors that Beijing has long prepared to intervene in North Korea, whether in the aftermath of a government collapse or should the country’s leadership make credible threats against China. No one outside of Beijing knows what those preparations might be, but we can outline some scenarios. One thing seems reasonably certain, however: if China goes into North Korea, the presiding regime, whether of Kim Jong-un or someone else, will not survive.

One possible scenario is a military incursion into North Korea in response to regime collapse. An imploding economy, military coup, or Syria-like rebellion could all cause the regime to fold, and it will likely fold quickly. When it does, the national food distribution system will likely fail, causing refugees to flee the country. Given that the border with South Korea is notoriously fortified and the Russian border is relatively far and remote, the least difficult border to cross is into China.

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