Tuesday, April 12, 2016

Across a Parallel Line

The last thing China wants on its border is a strong American ally with a mass of U.S. troops and weapons available for action. It is this reality that keeps North Korea alive. Likewise, there are pragmatists on the South Korean side of the border who actually fear unification with the North. Northerners are heavily indoctrinated, many incapable of reversing their distorted perception of the world or abandoning their leader’s vision of the North’s position in global politics, under-educated for a modern world, in a land filled with concentration camps and vast tracts of land and waterways so desperately polluted as to defy any commercially affordable means of correction. That there is just one real commercial-accessible airport in the entire country screams to the rest of the world. The above satellite picture of the entire Korean peninsula at night says it all.
In short, North Korea is a mess, a nuclear menace that continually embarrasses China and threatens to disseminate its nuclear capacity to a terrorist world, that no one wants but no one really knows how to contain. China accounts for 90% of the trade with the North, and its porous border hardly reflects the global sanctions placed upon Kim Jong-un’s empire. But China also knows that without the trade that does cross the border, the North just might fall, generating that intolerable result noted above. That if pressed, the North can deploy the largest military on earth (including police, the actual military, paramilitary and reservists) – 9 million troops – and the DMZ is a scant 25 miles from the South’s capital, Seoul, only serve to complicate the situation.
When I actually went down into the tunnels that the West had discovered under the DMZ – capable of delivering 30,000 troops per hour – I wondered how the North could construct these highways through solid granite that lurch the depth of a 25 story building underground without detection. I was told that every time a blast was detonated through solid rock, a simultaneous artillery or bombing test on the surface would disguise the shock waves accordingly. Wow!
As Chinese President, Xi Jinping, and Barack Obama discussed the North during the recent nuclear weapons containment talks in Washington, the North was high on the agenda. Both powers saw the inherent dangers of this rogue nuclear state. Both leaders lent their support to the notion of a nuclear-weapons-free Korean peninsula, but how to get there was a hot topic of discussion. The U.S. continues to press China to tighten up their cross-border sieve of trade with the North.
Reality is somewhat different as even used taxis are driven south from China for sale in North Korea. The March 31st New York Times explains how this works: “Before he drives the beat-up taxi into North Korea, Mr. Qin does two things. He packs a bribe, often something as simple as fresh apples or bananas, or sometimes as much as $200. And he snips the car’s radio wires.
“‘They always want the wires to the car radio cut so the North Koreans can’t listen to the Chinese programs,’ he said… Then, as he does on many mornings, he drives the car over a single-lane iron bridge across the border, where there is steady demand for secondhand taxis.
“When the United Nations adopted tougher sanctions against North Korea last month to punish it for its nuclear weapons program, it was understood that they would have little effect without strong cooperation from China, North Korea’s largest trading partner.
“If recent trade here is any indication, that cooperation has been spotty at best… Cross-border trade, legal and illegal, flows pretty much as usual, and seems to be largely unhindered by the new rules, traders and local officials said.
“One of the toughest components, a requirement that countries inspect all cargo entering or leaving North Korea for banned goods, is not enforced here.
“On many days, Mr. Qin’s secondhand taxis cross the bridge in a convoy of more than 100 vehicles, including trucks loaded with containers draped in shabby tarpaulins and secondhand minibuses for North Korea’s rickety transportation system. Few are ever inspected by the Chinese authorities…
“Demand has fallen for some items, traders said, but that was more a function of North Korea’s increasingly feeble economy and a lack of cash, than the sanctions.
“There is, however, evidence of some enforcement in one important area: North Korea’s sale of coal and iron ore, two of its most important exports.
“Port authorities here have been fairly vigilant in enforcing the new ban on North Korea’s ragged fleet of more than two dozen cargo ships, two local officials said. The coal they carry earns North Korea as much as $1 billion a year, according to the United States Treasury.
“But that ban has been circumvented by smuggling ships and by the transfer of 12 North Korean ships to Chinese ownership, allowing them to dock at Chinese and other ports, a longtime trader, Mr. Yu, said… A few traders interviewed here said the new rules had crimped their business.”
Kim Jong-Un’s government recently released a special-effects-generated video showing a nuclear warhead from the North hitting the U.S. Capitol dead on. He continually sabre-rattles, threatening a nuclear strike against American targets with the possible ability to reach some of those targets with his existing missile capacity. That the United States could shoot down such a missile or even retaliate by wiping the North off the face of the earth in seconds with its off-shore submarine-based nuclear warheads are never mentioned by Mr. Kim. In the end, North Korea is China’s problem to contain… unless Kim stupidly tries to impose his will or nuclear capacity beyond his own borders.
I’m Peter Dekom, and in a world of terrorists ready to find and deploy a nuke, tolerance for a rogue nuclear state is waning everywhere.

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