New article stokes fears of North Korean attack on South Korea

Another rumor of war in Korea.  I have no insights into the validity of this information, but report it at is.  These are the only two stories I see reporting on an article by Zhang Liangui in the Chinese-language magazine World Affairs.  The second is the more detailed.  I see no full translation Zhang’s article.  This might be the magazine’s website (Chinese only).

  1. ANALYSIS – Grim Chinese views of North Korea suggest rethink“, Reuters, 30 June 2009
  2. Top China Advisor Sees Possible New Korean War“, Mark O’Neil, Asia Sentinal, 6 July 2009


(1)  ANALYSIS – Grim Chinese views of North Korea suggest rethink“, Reuters, 30 June 2009 — Excerpt:

Since North Korea conducted a second nuclear test on May 25, China has mostly stuck to its customary even-handed rhetoric on the dispute, but its officials, including a senior military officer, have been pointedly open in their worries about their much smaller neighbour. Bleak commentary on North Korea has also multiplied in the government-controlled press, some of it going well beyond the usual official rhetoric.

“Judging from current trends, I believe a military conflict could well break out on the Korean Peninsula, first at sea and then possibly pushing towards the 38th Parallel,” Zhang Liangui, an expert on North Korea at the Central Party School in Beijing, wrote this month in a Chinese-language magazine, World Affairs.

… Zhang said fresh international sanctions against North Korea are unlikely to work unless backed by the threat of force. “In North Korea, economic and political sanctions cannot influence the concrete interests of its decision-makers. Only sanctions against North Korea backed by force will get enough attention from it,” he wrote in the magazine, which is sponsored by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

(2)  Top China Advisor Sees Possible New Korean War“, Mark O’Neil, Asia Sentinal, 6 July 2009

In an alarming analysis in an official Chinese publication, a senior advisor to the Chinese government expects North Korea to launch a war on the South in the belief that it has overwhelming military superiority. Zhang Lianggui, a professor of International Strategy at the Central Communist Party School in Beijing, also writes that he regards Pyongyang’s nuclear program as posing a significant and unprecedented danger to China.

Zhang, who has been at the school since 1989, is a specialist on North Korea, where he studied at Kim Il-Sung University in Pyongyang from 1964-1968. His analysis, in the June 16 issue of World Affairsmagazine, is one of the most critical of the North ever to appear in an official publication. It reflects Beijing’s rising anger with its neighbor and frustration that it can do so little to change its nuclear policy – despite the fact that the country relies upon it for supplies of food and oil.

… “If we look at the situation as it is, the likelihood of a military confrontation on the Korean Peninsula is very high … It will start on the sea and then could spread to the 38th parallel. If a war breaks out, it is very difficult to forecast how it would develop. North Korea believes it now has nuclear weapons and has become stronger. It believes that it has overwhelming military superiority over the south and would certainly win a war … {North’s nuclear tests pose} a risk that it [China] had never faced for thousands of years. … The tests are close to densely populated areas of East Asia. If there were an accident, it would not only make the Korean nation homeless but also turn to nothing plans to revive the northeast of China … The danger for China is extremely grave. We have not paid sufficient attention to this risk. If we cannot bring about a denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula, mankind will pay a heavy price, especially the countries bordering Korea … North Korea has turned from being a non-nuclear state into a nuclear one.”

Zhang said that Kim Jong-Il is racing to fulfill the mission given to him by his father before he hands over power to his successor, expected to be his youngest son Kim Jong-woon, 25. This includes making North Korea a nuclear state, a symbol of a powerful country: developing missiles capable of delivering these nuclear weapons, re-negotiating the NLL and obtaining possession of the five major islands in the western sea and their rich fishing grounds, using nuclear weapons to create a new international environment and achieve reunification.


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14 thoughts on “New article stokes fears of North Korean attack on South Korea”

  1. In Chinese security planning, nuclear North Korea is unacceptable, unified Korea is unacceptable, US Eigth Army on Yalu River is unacceptable, militarized Japan is unacceptable…tend to raise the question on what China has in plan for Korea besides maintaining the status quo as long as possible?
    Fabius Maximus replies: Most of these comments assume a fixed world. Nope. Conditions change, hence China’s list of “unacceptables” will change as well. Esp as China grows more powerful and integrated into the global economic and political sytems. More probable that they will accept
    * a larger stronger military in Japan (it is hardly “demilitarized” today, esp with its large Navy), and
    * a unified Korea.

  2. Well, in that case may I suggest a thrid possbility that China might accept – taking over North Korea.

    A larger stronger military in Japan is extremely unpopular among Chinese and it will make Taiwan harder to deal with. A unified Korea, regardless of alignment, will be a serious regional power that can challenge China’s power. Thus in my opinion the Chinese might be trying to replace the current North Korean regime, but can’t risk an implosion lest US gets involved.
    Fabius Maximus replies: I don’t see how Korea can be cosidered a long-term serious challenge to China. Population 5% of China’s (72 million vs 1.3 million). Area 9% of China’s.

  3. I was on the DMZ two weeks ago. I toured “The Second Tunnel”. The take away lesson from this tour, which involves walking about a mile (round trip) into and back out of this solid rock tunnel, is that the North Korean leadership is profoundly nuts. No one I spoke to thinks there is any threat from the North, other than that they are nonsensical, and basically barking mad. There is a symmetry to their reasoning. An enemy that is very convincing in their threat of being dangerously insane, a distinct asset when playing at brinkmanship, cannot simultaneously claim to be dangerously competent at waging war.

    I do believe China is growing tired of the very effective competition coming from South Korea in cars, semiconductors, and so on. Unlike Japan, Korea is coming on strong. It’s a drag for China, having to compete with a full functioning free market Democracy. They might be up to no good for this reason, but forget fear of the North as a motivation other than fear they will collapse creating a refugee problem..
    Fabius Maximus replies: Do you have any supporting evidence for your belief that “China is growing tired of the very effective competition coming from South Korea.” China’s export growth has been the wonder of the world. It’s difficult to imagine how exports could have grown even faster, or that China believes they should have grown faster.

  4. Burke G Sheppard

    Even if the Norks have a few bombs, they can’t have much in the way of delivery systems, and don’t see how they can have any warheads deliverable by missile – yet. I think China is waking up to the fact that their policy toward North Korea has probably made China less secure, and they’re getting worried about that. But that doesn’t mean North Korea is about to launch a war. China is just becoming worried about the consequences if they do.

    The North Koreans don’t want war, they want other people to underwrite the cost of their insane regime. War doesn’t get them economic aid, but threatening war does, or has in the past. The threat is stronger than the fulfillment, and my guess, for what little it may be worth, is they know this. There isn’t going to be an all-out war, although there may be some ugly incidents.

  5. And yet, Van Creveld believes that nuclear weapons have made war less likely, not more likely.
    The stakes are higher. The risk of calling anyones bluff is almost unacceptable. Nations with their fingers on the “oh no, you don’t” button feel safer. We can hope that a nuclear Korea, or Iran, might actually be less belligerent, not more.

  6. An analysis of the effect of sanctions ( modern sieges ? ) , would be interesting .

  7. FM: “I don’t see how Korea can be cosidered a long-term serious challenge to China. Population 5% of China’s (72 million vs 1.3 million). Area 9% of China’s.

    Well, Korea manage to resist the Chinese Empire for centuries, fought dozens of wars against China and managed not only to survive, but win. They are a lot scarier to the Chinese than US given them credit for. I doubt Chinese leadership will forget centuries of history lesson when dealing with Korea.

    Whether a unified Korea could challenge China is irrelevant, what is relevant is that Chinese leadership frimly believes in the idea that a unified Korea is just as dangerous as militarized Japan, and they will do anything within their power to stop that from happening.
    Fabius Maximus replies: First, do you have any evidence that China fears Korea? Second, your theory is that since China was not able to conquer Korea, China fears Korea? That’s odd.

  8. FM: “First, do you have any evidence that China fears Korea?

    I lived in China long enough to know that there is a general consense among Chinese that unified Korea is something to be feared and respected. It seem to me a logical step to assume that Chinese leadership would think the same way.

    FM: “Your theory is that since China was not able to conquer Korea, China fears Korea?

    Well, if the entire might of Chinese Empire fail to bring Korea down after centuries, doesn’t that say something about Chinese preception of Korean military power, that it can always defeat China and protect itself against Chinese interventions? And given the economy of South Korea teached the Communist so much on Chinese economic reform, Chinese themselves often felt lacking in economic power when compared to South Korea. Finally, Chinese youth are embacing South Korean pop culture while and Chinese state media plays South Korean soap opera to attract viewership…South Korea already projected their cultural power over China.

    Does China fear Korea? To quote one Taxi driver in Beijing: “…When compared to us, they are more serious, more united and more nationalistic…This is only half of the Korea. If the North and South got reunited, then it will be unstoppable.”
    Fabius Maximus replies: The unsaid Chinese fear of Korea — nameless, unwritten — muttered only to western expats by taxi drivers, who in turn don’t publish them. This is not strong evidence, IMO.

  9. The population of North Korea is eating grass. They’re starving. Kim Jong Il rattles his sabre every couple of years to extort food aid, and that’s basically it. The guy’s dying from pancreatic cancer and the entire country is in total collapse.

    North Korea is the biggest non-story of the last 20 years, right up there as a terrifying danger to America and South Korea with formidable foes like…Tierra Del Fuego. And Monaco.
    Fabius Maximus replies: A nation in collapse with nukes and a mad leader. Sounds a bit more serious than tierra del fuego, IMO. It’s not something high on my list of worries, but I understand why others would disagree. The author of the World Affairs article is an expert, so this is probably worth some thought.

  10. Comment #3 — FM: “Do you have any supporting evidence for your belief that “China is growing tired of the very effective competition coming from South Korea.

    No. Upon further reading, the cohesive forces of capitalism, trade, Korean manufacturing in China, etc. are far stronger than any rivalry induced tensions. So long as S. Korea can run out ahead of China in core technologies (Harder and harder to do BTW) this is stable. If and when tensions mount, it will likely come from Korean resentment by the Korean labor movement at the prospect of racing to the bottom against unprotected Chinese labor. Sounds familiar.

  11. Interesting dynamics in that part of the world.

    1. NKs are not “mad.” They are a Thugocracy, a criminal gang in charge of a country. If NK attacked the south, they would cause huge damage (Seoul is within artillery range of the border) but they would get their heads handed to them and it would be the end of the regime and they know it. Kim plays the extortion game bequeathed to him by his father very well. It’s worked for 56 years. Why stop now?
    2. China likes having the buffer on their border–U.S. is still in the South. They just don’t want to be dragged into Kim’s games. I doubt if they fear a unified Korea, but they definitely don’t want a Korea unified and allied with the U.S.
    3. Japan’s relations with both Koreas are worse than is understood by most westerners. The fact that the U.S. is allied with both Japan and the ROK just keeps the lid on a bit. NK is the number one security threat from Japan’s viewpoint. Some Japanese would say that the #2 threat is a tie between China and the ROK. The ides of a unified Korea causes loud alarm bells to ring in Tokyo.
    5. With Hong Kong gone, Taiwan is the last bit left of democratic China. They fear a “deal” on Korea that would give them up to the PRC. They also have territorial disputes with Japan.

    Conclusion: Most of the players in NE Asia like a divided Korea. They just wish Kim would stay in his box. If Kim pushes too hard, the immune system could finally become activated enough to do something about him, but I wouldn’t hold my breath.
    Fabius Maximus replies: Did anyone say that the “North Koreans” are mad? I don’t think so. Kim might be mad, in either (or even both) a clinical and vernacular sense.

    (2) “NK is the number one security threat from Japan’s viewpoint”

    Do you have any evidence for that? It’s possible, but some evidence would be interesting to see.

  12. For some background information, I think the magazine is 国际观察. It seems to be more of an academic journal organized by the 上海外国语大学, which in english is translated as Shanghai international studies university. However, Shanghai foreign language university would seem to be a more literal translation. As of yet, I haven’t found a website for the magazine, although the article or summary of the article has been widely copied in the Chinese blog sphere.
    Fabius Maximus replies: Is the website I link to in the post the correct site of the magazine? Also, any thoughts about the article? What has been the nature of the discussion in the Chinese blogosphere?

  13. Unfortuntely, I have to change my previous statement. After reading some more articles online they do link back to the publisher that you mentioned. This unfortunately is one of the difficulties when articles like this are copied piecemeal in several internet forums. For anybody else who is interested here’s a link to publication issue in question. It was the 12th issue in 2009 for 世界知识.

    The professor’s chinese name is 张琏瑰. The article has also been posted without attribution to that publication at a web portal called xin ming.

    From my reading of the article, the 2 news reports are fairly accurate, but some interesting parts of the opinion piece weren’t mentioned. For example, the professor believes that this issue shouldn’t be seen solely as between North Korea and America, but something that China should have a vital interest in. I think the professor is disappointed that China and the neighboring countries have let the issue turn into a dialogue solely between the US and North Korea. Also, environmental damage is another issue the Professor mentioned that should motivate countries in the region to intervene.

    As for how the article has been perceived, I’m afraid that’s a more difficult issue. Just like any area, online comments span a wide range from China should attack Korea to people shouldn’t be worried because North Korea will just use the missiles to attack Japan. Also, this article or the copies of it hasn’t reached the major media outlets. While specialists or those concerned with global issues may be focused on it, it doesn’t look as of yet like it’s reached the big leagues of Chinese media.
    Fabius Maximus replies: Thank you for this background information. I’d really like to know when a full English translation is available. Soon comments will shut down on this site for a week (I’m out of country); please email the text or a link to fabmaximus at hotmail dot com (note the spam-protected spelling).

  14. Re #11: “‘NK is the number one security threat from Japan’s viewpoint.” Do you have any evidence for that?”

    See The Defense of Japan Whitepaper 2009 (Tentative Translation), part one, chapter one singles out North Korea in the very first paragraph under “Major Security Issues,” and then goes on to elaborate. Later it talks about China and Russia (in that order).

    See also page 122 of Kevin J. Cooney, “Japan’s Foreign Policy since 1945,” (Google Books): “North Korea’s nuclear and missile programs are Japan’s number-one traditional security threat.” {Cooney is an Associate Prof of Pol Sci at Union University; bio}

    A previous version of the White Paper was more openly critical of SOUTH Korea, especially the territorial dispute over Tok-Do/Takeshima, but I haven’t been able to dig it up.

    Lately perception in Japan of a security threat from China has been rising, especially since the submarine incident a few years ago, but it still doesn’t reach the level of NK, especially with their new nuclear capability. “Japan defense white paper ratchets up vigilance of China, N. Korea“, Kyodo News Service, 17 June 2009.
    Fabius Maximus replies: Thanks for this valuable material, but it does not prove your assertion.

    (1) The White Paper mentions WMD’s as a significant threat (in a long list), of which nukes are one specific, and North Korea’s nukes as a particularly significant specific. I see nothing here that says or implies that Japan’s government sees it as their “#1” threat. See the except below.

    (em>(2) Prof Cooney gives his opinion about the NK threat, but does not represent it as Japan’s viewpoint. Also, in the 21st century the “#1 traditional security threat” is not necessarily the “#1 security threat”.

    Excerpt from part one (Security Environment Surrounding Japan), chapter one (Overview), section 2 (Major Security Issues) of Japan’s 2009 White Paper:

    The proliferation of nuclear, biological, chemical (NBC) and other weapons of mass destruction (WMD) as well as ballistic missiles and their means of delivery constitute a continued and significant threat to the international community. In particular, the proliferation of North Korea’s nuclear weapons and ballistic missiles and Iran’s nuclear program pose a concern. Also, concerns remain over the acquisition or use of WMD by non-state actors, including international terrorist organizations, against which deterrence is less effective.

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