first published on April 23, 2017 by Josh
China is North Korea’s closest ally and largest importer of coal. The ban of coal is evidence of China’s reluctance to continue yanking on the leash, and may be prepared to let Pyongyang bite off more than it can chew. We may finally see change coming to the Korean peninsula, but it is doubtful that it will involve the scale of conflict that America is bracing for.
After a meeting with President Trump on April seventh, the Chinese government issued an order to companies requiring them to return all North Korean coal. The Chinese had banned import on February 26th, but this order took the ban a step further. This falls in perfect timing with two topics that President Trump has doubled down on recently. Thwarting the North Korean attempts to create a viable nuclear missile system, and reinvigorating the American coal industry.
To make up for the coal deficit China has ramped up importation of coal from the United States and Russia. Aside from the heavy economic impact, this also puts Pyongyang at steeper odds with the United States, as the latter is benefiting from the ban. Not only has the US threatened to take “whatever action necessary”, it has also stepped between them and their closest ally.
It will be interesting to see how the missile testing progresses considering the economic pressure. Will North Korea get the hint and back down from its nuclear agenda? Or is Kim Jong Un prepared to go toe to toe with the United States without the support of China. China continues to show concern over the situation and is actively attempting to ease the tension between the two nations. China also has no interest in allowing the further development of nuclear weapons on the peninsula.
Neither the Chinese nor the Russians want to share a border with a nation that is loyal to the United States, and North Korea has long been used as a buffer. Now the Chinese may not be viewing the economic and political implications of continuing to support North Korea as worth the trouble. Favorable trade agreements and a friendlier political relationship with one of their largest importers of goods is a better option for China’s booming economy. It’s unlikely that either nation would support an all out conflict, but they may allow the US to remove the current regime, which has become a persistent thorn in their side.
The issue is predicting North Korea’s response to US action; they have already threatened to use their nuclear weapons, and Seoul is well within reach of North Korean artillery. While the US mainland is relatively safe, it will be our allies in the region who pay the price. Having South Korea and Japan within such close proximity has long been Pyongyang’s advantage, and having the South Korean capitol within “knee jerk” strike distance makes planning action against them difficult. There is also the issue of North Korea’s unpredictability; any anticipated action could be met with a devastating strike on Seoul, which would lead to a much larger conflict
Changes will be coming to Pyongyang, and what remains to be seen are whether those changes will occur quietly. A nation that already struggles to feed its own people may end up collapsing under its own weight if it refuses to submit to international demands. The current US leadership has been vocal about their dwindling patience with the North Korean posturing and defiance. The Chinese are already preparing for a situation on its border, and has stationed 150,000 troops there. The Russians have mobilized troops near the border as well, they have a navy base nearby, but this is more likely as a show of force than in anticipation of action. There are round the clock efforts to come up with a solution that meets everyone’s expectations. This will require North Korea to become friendlier with its southern neighbor and give up on its nuclear ambitions, it will also have to remain a buffer state and ally to China and Russia. Its doubtful that America will see the full scale conflict that it is bracing for, but it may get to witness the end of the Kim dynasty.