Asia Times: Why China needs one Korea
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  July 6, 2001  

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Why China needs one Korea
By Zhang Jian

The radical change of the situation on the Korean peninsula in the second half of 2000 has brought the security pattern of Northeast Asia to the threshold of transformation.(1) Consequently, the policies of the six parties of the region (China, the United States, Russia, Japan and the two Koreas) will have to be modified. Such modifications must be based on an understanding of the essence and trend of the recent changes.

Then US president Bill Clinton gave up the history-making visit to North Korea at the last minute,(2) partly because he valued the Middle East peace process much more than the prospects of the Korean peninsula. Clinton's decision mainly showed that the US was not yet prepared to deal with the new situation in this region, and the adjustment of its foreign policy is still at a wait-and-see stage. In fact, this is also true for the other powers of Northeast Asia.

Traditionally, China has been an important participant, actually the main decision-maker for most of the period before 1894 of affairs in the Korean peninsula. In 1894, the Chinese army in Korea was beaten by the Japanese and China lost its long-time suzerainty over Korea. In the Korean War of 1950-53, China re-established its uncontested influence at the cost of nearly one million casualties. In the following decades, China's influence over North Korea gradually decreased because of the emergence of the Sino-Soviet conflict and North Korea's closer ties with the Soviet Union.

After the break-up of the Soviet Union in 1991, with the Russia-South Korea and China-South Korea rapprochement, the long economic depression of North Korea and the increase in the level of Chinese aid, China is again steadily strengthening its influence over Korean affairs.(3) Kim Jong-il's secret visit to China just days before the summit with his Southern counterpart Kim Dae-jung and his tour-visit to China in January 2001 are widely regarded as the clear proof of China's influence.(4)

This article tries to explore the way to properly wield China's influence on the Korean peninsula and maximize its national interests in Northeast Asia. Besides, this problem is strongly related to the management of China's whole neighborhood and regional environment and China's international strategy in the new century, so this article could be seen as a case study of the latter problems.

An analysis of the Korean situation

As Clinton declared that he would not visit North Korea, the dramatic development of the Korean situation since June 2000 went through a brief pause, offering analysts an opportunity to make some assessments and predictions.

This round of detente is closely connected with the "Sunshine" policy of South Korea's President Kim Dae-jung. During the Cold War, South Korea was under the control of a rightwing military government, which harshly suppressed the civil rights of South Koreans and pursued an extreme anti-communist policy internationally. In fact, the South Korean regime in those days could be ranked among the autocracies supported by the US government in the name of containing communist expansion.

Correspondingly, the characteristics of Seoul's policy toward North Korea were toughness and pugnacity. Although there had been many contacts between the North and the South since the 1970s, the exchange of mutual condemnation always outweighed constructive talks.(5) After the shrinking of the Soviet bloc in 1989 and the shift of the power distribution between the two Koreas, South Korea launched a more pragmatic and confident policy toward its Northern brother. The reunion of the two German states also gave the South the hope of "reunion through annexation".

In 1990 and 1992, South Korea established formal relations respectively with the Soviet Union and the People's Republic of China. These were great breakthroughs for the "North Diplomacy" of South Korea. In 1991, the two Koreas joined the United Nations together, but the conflict and mutual distrust between them was never substantially overcome until the inauguration of Kim Dae-jung in 1998. The key points of President Kim's "Sunshine" policy are engagement and detente. Since then, the negative reports of North Korea have gradually decreased in the Southern press.

At the same time, the South's government began to actively ask for non-conditional talks between the two Koreas. As for economic cooperation, which is the favorite topic of the famine-plagued North Korea, the South lifted some restrictions too. Big companies in South Korea, such as Daewoo and Hyundai, were allowed to invest in the North. To some degree, President Kim's policy won the goodwill of the North. At the beginning of 2000, Chairman Kim Jong-il's agreement to hold a summit with President Kim is partly due to the "Sunshine" policy, although Chairman Kim's decision derived much more from traditional filial loyalty.(6) And, the response of the North does not match the efforts of the South.

In fact, more and more South Koreans are turning to question whether the "Sunshine" policy is the most cost-efficient policy for their country. Furthermore, President Kim's government has raised ever-wider discontent because of its repression of criticism against North Korea, to avoid provoking the militant North.(7) Critics of the "Sunshine" policy believe the South need not have conceded so much in exchange for the limited response from the North.

Considering the great difficulties in which North Korea is trapped, the view of the critics does hold some truth. For instance, the large-scale and lasting famine and energy shortages have forced North Korea to tone down its rhetoric and moderate its policy in order to receive life-saving aid from the South, because it could no longer get such aid from its former allies - the Soviet Union and China.

Apart from the purpose of survival, the zeal to break its diplomatic insulation is another reason for North Korea to take steps toward negotiation and cooperation.(8) In the Cold War, the so-called "Socialist group" refused to recognize South Korea, while the US, Western Europe and Japan did the same to North Korea. In the 1990s, however, the Soviet Union, China and the East European countries all established formal relations with South Korea, while North Korea failed to do so with Western countries. So far, the countries that recognize South Korea are much more numerous than those that recognize North Korea. This greatly embarrasses the North. After the North-South Summit of June 2000, countries such as the United Kingdom, Italy, Spain, Australia and the Netherlands quickly acknowledged the progress of North Korea by recognizing the regime. This makes the analysts more confident that the promising change of North Korea's foreign policy will be durable.

North Korea has all along believed that the United States is the "power-behind-the-curtain" that can control the policies of South Korea, thus the North is more zealous to talk directly with the US than with South Korea. So US policy toward the Korean peninsula is an important factor in the changes now under way in North Korea. In the past few years, US policy has been under the guidance of the so-called "Perry Proposal". That is, when the North shows goodwill to cooperate, the US should reward it both politically and in material terms; while when the North tends to turn back to the old hard ways, US should firmly strike back.(9) In other words, this is a "carrot plus stick" policy, which has long been proved to be good at inducing rivals to change their ways.

North Korea understands US policy well. What the North wants is direct contact with the US. North Korea was rewarded by the US soon after Chairman Kim's summit with President Kim. Both the US and North Korea have reasons to be satisfied: North Korea got the exchange visits of Vice Marshal Cho and Secretary of State Albright and greatly enhanced its diplomatic position; the US is glad to see that North Korea has moved towards the way to peace. And despite the chill following George W Bush taking office, and the review of US policy towards North Korea, Washington's indication that it is prepared once again to talk to Pyongyang is an encouraging sign.

Without doubt, in the current situation of the peninsula, the two Koreas and the US are the major players, and the North is in a position to trigger further change. As a country that has survived long-term isolation from the international community, North Korea is the most likely of the three to turn back to the old ways without being harmed. This deeply worries the international community, because future developments on the Korean peninsula may well be the following: once North Korea has the food aid and energy from the outside world, at the cost of a temporary detente, and survive the famine, it steps back and again locks the door, and the international society has no substantial means to prevent it from doing so.

However, if we are allowed to be a little more optimistic, as long as national reunification is still the supreme and common desire of all Koreans,(10) and the current policy continues to be profitable for the North, the flexibility and realism of North Korea's foreign policy is quite likely to be sustained.

Even if all the best wishes came true, the development on the Korean peninsula will be reversible if it is not accompanied by domestic reform in North Korea. For the totalitarian regime of the North, isolation from the outside world, especially the isolation of the people from outside flows of information, is a prerequisite for its survival.(11) Precisely for this reason, the North Korean government limited the time for the reunion of the separated families to only three days, and did not allow North Koreans to accept any gift of over US$500 in value from their Southern relatives. It is imaginable that, if contact and communication between the two peoples continue, the economic success and political democratization of South Korea will be known by an increasing number of North Koreans. This is extremely dangerous for the leadership of North Korea, which still wants to keep the one-party and dynastic rule.

On these grounds, it can be argued that the policies pursued by South Korea and the US have reached their general aims, and will continue in the future; peace - or detente, to be more cautious - on the peninsula will be determined by the relatively hard-to-predict development of North Korea's foreign policy. Considering the economic difficulties and international isolation of the North, people may be cautiously optimistic about sustaining the detente between the two Koreas, although there will always be scathing bargaining, and even rows, on some specific problems.

For instance, talks between the US and North Korea about the North's missile program and arms exports to "problem countries" in Kuala Lumpur following the North-South summit ended without any progress, but the talks between the two Koreas about food aid and economic cooperation reached some agreements. A most telling event was when South Korea declared the North was the "main enemy" of the country. even after the summit. North Korea did not retaliate for such a major affront with military mobilization and harsh words, as it has in the past.

The quality of the detente depends on whether the domestic policy of North Korea changes corresponding to its foreign policy. If the North's government does not relax its totalitarian domestic policy, then people will have to worry that the detente between the two Koreas will be full of bitterness and will not be able to overcome their misgivings towards the "unfathomable" North. And this in turn will negatively influence the development of the situation in the peninsula. If the North Korean leadership decides to reform the country because of, for example, the pressure to develop the economy, then the detente will be surer and more fruitful - especially in the economic sphere. The planned, but much postponed, visit of Chairman Kim Jong-il to Seoul will provide analysts the best signs to predict the future of North Korea's policy.(12)

China's national interests in the Korean peninsula

Beijing has important economic and geopolitical interests in the Korean peninsula. China has had ever-closer economic relations with South Korea since the 1990s, and the two countries are important trade partners. South Korea's investment has become the key factor for the development of China's Shangdong and Liaoning provinces. However, the further development of the Sino-South Korean economic cooperation is strategically threatened by the military confrontation on the peninsula, and the split of the Korean nation also limits the economic potential of South Korea itself. China's economic interests in this region are thus second to its geopolitical interests, which pertain not only to the reunification or continuing separation of the Korean nation, but also to the US troops stationed in South Korea, namely US Forces Korea (USFK).

As was argued above, the positive trend on the Korean peninsula is not irreversible, but neither is the final reunification of the two Koreas inconceivable. In the long term, this is the big problem upon which China must ponder, while the problems that most people - especially Americans - are now worrying about, such as North Korea's missile program, arms exports and its nuclear ambitions, are not the real concerns of China because of its friendship with North Korea.(13)

North Korea borders China along the Yalujiang River and the Changbaishan mountains, an area of 120,000 square kilometers, with a population of 21,200,000 (in 2000), a GDP of $21.8 billion (1997); South Korea is separated from China by the Huanghai Sea, an area of 98,000 square kilometers, with a population of 46,000,000 (in 2000), a GDP of $406.7 billion (1999).(14) According to the traditional realpolitik logic, the neighbor's division and weakness are good news for one's own security and interests. Besides, as a big card in China's diplomatic game with the US, the division of the Korean peninsula seems to suit China's needs best. These views are valuable, but they may overlook the following points.

Firstly, because of the tremendous difference in the size of China and the Korean states, even a unified Korea (220,000 square kilometers, 67 million people, GDP $430 billion) could not harm China in a possible ensuing confrontation, unless there was another power support it. This situation would be a national tragedy for the Koreans. So, an independent and unified Korea is most unlikely to threaten the national interests of China. On the other hand, for a very long time after the reunification of Korea, the government will have to dedicate its attention to reviving the economy of the North and to curing the psychological wounds of the people, and thus it would have no power to oppose or come into conflict with China.

Secondly, history shows that the deterioration of the situation in Korea has always negatively influenced China's security and welfare: China either sent troops to fight in Korea - from the Ming Dynasty in the 1590s to communist China in the 1950s - or was involved in the domestic politics of Korea, and finally hurt itself - such as at the beginning of the Sino-Japanese war in 1894-1895. The existence of two rival Korean states is the very source of instability in Northeast Asia and a grave threat to China's national security. And now North Korea is undergoing an unprecedented economic crisis that threatens its survival.(15) If the long physical suffering causes a political calamity or refugee wave, China will be the first victim. And, if the leadership of the North tries to distract its people's attention by using force with South Korea during such a crisis, China's regional environment will be greatly worsened.

Thirdly, and maybe the most tangible reason, division of the Korean peninsula provides the US with a concrete motive to station troops in this region, which is an intolerable threat to China's security. The USFK has about 37,000 personnel, including the Eighth Army, and it has advanced fighters - eg, 70 F-16s, 20 A-10 anti-tank attack planes, various types of intelligence-collecting and reconnaissance aircraft, including U-2s, and the latest transport aircraft. Should there be a "contingency" on the Korean peninsula, the USFK commander has full control of the operations of the Seventh Fleet and the Seventh US Air Force Command.(16)

From Seoul to China's Beijing-Tianjin region or from Kwangju - a city in South Korea - to China's Shanghai-Nanjing region, a US aircraft needs no more than a one-hour flight. This is much less than from the Kadena air base in Okinawa, Japan. So a US fighter jet can stay in Chinese airspace for a longer time. To make things worse, the journey from South Korean ports to China's two most important military ports - Qingdao and Lushun - is also much shorter than from Yukosuka on the Pacific Ocean side of Japan, which is the mother port of the Seventh Fleet. Although the intended enemy of the USFK is North Korea, its bases could easily be used to attack the Chinese heartland. Following the demise of the Soviet Union, the biggest threat to China's national security comes from American military deployments in Asia, among which USFK is the closest.

Proceeding from the three points above, the basic aims of China's Korean diplomacy should be accelerating the peace progress on the Korean peninsula and propelling the retreat of USFK. This is a policy that entails some risk, for the following scenario is quite likely: North Korea plunges quickly into famine and the regime loses all its legitimacy; the reunification process is led by the South following the German model; reunification led by South Korea will inevitably raise the concerns of Russia and China, and to counterbalance Russian and Chinese influence, the US presence becomes virtually permanent. However, such a scenario does not eliminate the desirability of the above mentioned aims. In fact, crystallizing the division of the Korean peninsula must mean crystallizing the USFK.(17)

Comparing probability with inevitability, a policy of support to the reunification of the Korean nation is a wiser strategy. On the other hand, Chinese leaders know well how big China's influence on North Korea is,(18) and with the advance of the Korean peninsula peace process, China's special relationship with North Korea will be devalued in China's diplomatic game with the US.

China's Korean peninsula strategy
The current situation and a few recommendations

At present, China's efforts have accomplished virtually nothing on the Korean peninsula, however critical the region is for its national interests. In all the international talks related to the Korean problem, China has taken part only in the "Four-party talks" (China, the US and the two Koreas). In fact, these talks were held only because North Korea wanted a place to start direct contact with the US. In every meeting of the four parties, the North has only been interested in one-to-one talks with the US, while China and South Korea had nothing to do.

Chairman Kim Jong-il's two visits to China show that China has some influence on North Korea, but, actually, the North has always been vigilant on China's role in the peninsula, except as a food provider and the venue for North-South talks.(19) For a long time up to 1992, to keep the friendship with North Korea, and on the basis of their common ideology, China had become a "yesman" of North Korea's "reunification policy". After establishing relations with South Korea in 1992, China has been pursuing a "fence-sitting" policy toward the two Koreas, that is, to show no inclination to either one. From a somewhat sincere "yesman", China has turned into a "giant-without-ideas". Both roles are not commensurate with China's power and hurt its interests.

Fence sitting does not ensure that China receives the favor of all related parties, especially when the two Koreas hold different views of tit-for-tat. Having no idea means that China cannot take the initiative on the Korean problem. This in turn means it has to defend its interests from a passive position. In fact, the whole diplomacy of the Chinese government is in an "emergency-reaction" state.(20) To make a "grand strategy" that suits China's power and interests, China must first have the sufficient self confidence and will, and the belief its actions can influence or change other countries' behavior, and have the resolve to apply any means, including the use of force, to defend its national interests when necessary. Second, a "grand strategy" means that China must be fully aware of its interests, know where they are and how important they are. And such recognition will be different in the light of a different national will. This is not drumming for any form of arrogance or chauvinism, but the rise of China's power is an indisputable fact, and it is vital for such a power to defend its interests and prestige firmly to ensure the conditions for the further growth of its international standing.

Obviously, if China were to pursue the aims in the Korean peninsula as this article advocates, conflict between it and the US will become inevitable. China now relies heavily on the US in many fields, such as trade, technology, investment and, the most important, to achieve "equal and full membership in the international community".(21) Thus, any conflict between the two would be unbearable for China, and indeed over the past 10 years conflict has been kindled by the US. However, when China has expressed its dissatisfaction over the US's Taiwan policy in an extremely hard way - the war games and missile launches in 1995 and 1996 - the US actually recognized China's position and restrained its actions.(22) This shows that although the US has an overwhelming power advantage over China, it is not strong enough to behave completely at will. The conflict between the US and China is a fundamental one.

China's blind concessions to the US cannot produce a positive response in all fields, especially as to whether the US will allow China to develop freely into a global power, for such a China will become a country the US could never control, and a challenge. Therefore, concessions with a clear bottom line, plus carefully selected struggles, should be China's general policy toward the US. The Korean peninsula has always been the first step of any aggression to China in the modern age. It heavily affects China's national security and must be friendly to China. China must make sure that there exist no unfriendly regime and no military force with an offensive posture towards it in the Korean peninsula. These aims can be attained without doing major harm to Sino-US relations.

First, the formal US policy toward the Korean peninsula is to support detente and peace until the reunification of the Korean states is accomplished. The mutual defense agreement of the US and South Korea - the legal basis of the USFK - is based on the perception of military confrontation in the Korean peninsula. When such perception ends, the USFK will lose its rationale, and to withdraw the US forces at this point would not be harmful to its strategic position.

Second, the strategic cornerstone of the US in East Asia is Japan, not South Korea. The expansion of the effective area of the US-Japan defense alliance and the deepening of their cooperation are sound proof of this point. As long as a united Korea does not fall under the control of an enemy country to the US and Japan, their alliance in itself will be enough to keep the US's absolute strategic advantage in this region.(23)

Third, judged from the present status quo on the Korean peninsula, the reunification process, if there is one, will not be led by the North. In fact, none of the other five of the six parties in Northeast Asia would like to see North Korea reunite the peninsula. For the US, it would mean losing a half-century-long Cold War. For Japan, it would mean an endless security nightmare.(24) For Russia and China, it would mean the rise of a former ally that still remembers their "betrayal". For the people of South Korea, it would be abysmal. So, any attempt by the North to lead reunification would not be welcomed, and would be boycotted at least by the US, Japan and South Korea.

Therefore, the US is not really worried about the situation on the Korean peninsula after its reunification: even if the USFK has to retreat from the region, the government of the Republic of Korea (South Korea) that has reunified Korea would still be a friend of the US, if not an ally; if South Korea fails to annex the North as in the German model, either a reunification in the form of a federation (North Korea's proposal) or a confederation (South Korea's proposal) will ensure the US's influence in South Korea.

It is easy to see that the USFK is not equally important to China and the US. For China, it signals deep trouble and must be eliminated. For the US, it does nothing more than counteract the conventional weapons advantage of North Korea, unless there is total confrontation with China.

In the process of helping the reunification of the Korean states and accelerate the retreat of USFK, China must take all precautions not to stimulate the US to promote the importance of the USFK because of China's intentions. That is, China should not be so aggressive as to strengthen the US resolve to keep its armed forces in South Korea. Somewhat ironically, the best way to do so is to make a clear statement to the effect that China is deeply concerned with the military situation in the Korean peninsula, especially the potential of the USFK to threaten China's most important areas, and that China will not bear such situation forever.

Such a statement will raise the voices of the American "hawks", but it is more important to tell them clearly what is the bottom line. Otherwise, there is no way to prevent the US from miscalculating China's intention and patience, and urge the US to make wiser decisions, which thus would better serve China's interests as well. In this process, China must also keep showing that it has only limited aims in the Korean issue, that is, it needs just a non-hostile Korea and not a subservient Korea. As long as the USFK retreats from the peninsula, China can accept a pro-US neutral Korea that is friendly to China.

In this game, an important card that China can play is to increase its aid to North Korea, mainly materially and - secondly, but just as indispensable - politically. It is quite clear that the balance of power between the two Koreas has been irreversibly tilted toward the South. China has to support the North to make the game keep going and gain more for itself. Otherwise, once the US and South Korea believe that time is on their side and to drag on is the best way to settle the problem, then the future of the Korean peninsula will be unfavorable to China.

Political support to North Korea need not be offered in ideological language, which is actually a silly way to do it. China, as a permanent member of the Security Council, naturally has the duty to behave as a great power toward the two Koreas, which are both UN member states, and impartiality toward the two countries is vital for the settlement of the Korean problem. Based on such a principle, China will be able to openly support some North Korean policies while not being reproached or doubted as being favoritism. Considering its diplomatic isolation, North Korea will not look down on China's support. At the same time, China can say openly that there is a traditional friendship between China and North Korea.

China must maximize its legal influence in the Korean Armistice Agreement, if necessary by even re-establishing the Chinese Volunteers Army Command in Changchun or Shenyang, claiming its right to attend any international meetings that will make any change to the status quo of the Korean peninsula. This will make China a major participant in Korean affairs again while leaving Russia and Japan far away. But China should not and need not do too much, even if it has the capabilities. This is likely to leave the US and the two Koreas guessing about China's attitude before they take any action. Then, China will be in a more advantageous position.

China must clearly distance itself from North Korea's militant rhetoric. This means that it political support to North Korea be limited and selective. China is by no means a real ally of North Korea. China will make all efforts not to be regarded as connected to the militant policy of the North, for that would only hurt its basic relations with the US and South Korea.

The importance of providing material aid to North Korea needs no more debate here. It must only be stressed that such aid must be under the banner of international humanitarianism in order to gain the favor and support of the Western public, and not be regarded as exchanging influence for aid. And China should not hesitate to provide nuclear power station technology to North Korea. On the one hand, this will break the monopoly of the Korean Energy Development Organization. On the other hand, China will lose nothing for such exports. Although North Korea is unlikely to pay for such technology because it lacks foreign exchange, China will get strategic returns and it can advertise its nuclear technology and increase the possibility of exporting to other countries. Food aid could also take the form of barter (eg food for timber). In general, China should change its old free aid policy. This will enable it to support North Korea for much longer and on a larger scale, and will give it a strong influence on North Korea's government.

(1) The main events include the summit between the two Koreas in June 2000, two rounds of reunions of the separated families in August and November, the exchange visits by Vice Marshal Jo Myong Rok and then US secretary of state Madeleine Albright in October.

(2) "Clinton says he will not visit North Korea", Reuters, December 29, 2000.

(3) See Liu, Jinzhi, Zhang Minqiu and Zhang Xiaoming, Dangdai Zhonghan Guanxi (The Contemporary Sino-South Korean Relations), Beijing 1998, China Social Science Press, pp. 1-67.

(4) See, for example, "China's Korea Game", Far East Economic Review, June 1, 2000, and "N. Korea's Kim on Surprise Beijing Visit", Reuters, January 15, 2001.

(5) For the related history, see Dangdai Zhonghan Guanxi, pp. 277-329.

(6) Chairman Kim's father, the late leader of North Korea Kim Il Sung, promised to meet with the leader of the South in 1994. The meeting never took place because of Kim Il Sung's sudden death.

(7) "The Moral Cost of Engagement", Far East Economic Review, December 28, 2000/January 4, 2001.

(8) The history of North Korea reminds us that we cannot conjecture its diplomacy as we do with a "normal country", yet I believe that we have to presume that there is some reason for North Korea's international behavior if we still want to get some useful and practical prediction of any development of North Korea's diplomacy.

(9) Review of United States Policy Toward North Korea: Findings and Recommendations, Unclassified Report by W J Perry, US North Korea Policy Coordinator and Special Advisor to the President and the Secretary of State, Washington, DC, October 12, 1999.

(10) A recent supporting event is that North Korea has declared 2001 as the "Homeland Reunion Year", see "N Koreans Appeal for Reconciliation", Associated Press, January 10, 2001.

(11) For one of the latest studies about the North Korea regime, please see O Kongdan and R.C. Hassig, North Korea: Through the Looking Glass, Brookings Institution Press, 2000.

(12) Chairman Kim's tour-visit to China in January 2001 has given people some reason to be optimistic about North Korea's reform. Kim visited Shanghai, the economic capital of China that has widely been lauded as the greatest success of Deng Xiaoping's economic reform program.

(13) The irresponsible actions of North Korea have given the US good excuse to develop the Theater Missile Defense (TMD) and the National Missile Defense (NMD). Thus, North Korea's action is indirectly related to the proposal of some US officials to provide TMD to Taiwan, which has raised in China a dismal association with the influence of the Korean War in 1950 on China's acquisition of Taiwan. So some may argue that North Korea's actions are closely, albeit indirectly, related to China's important national interests. But I believe that people should admit that the US's TMD and NMD program would be only to deter North Korea. So, even if North Korea rejected its current policy, it would not help China much in its Taiwan problem.

(14) US State Department, Background Notes: Korea, June 2000 and Background Notes: North Korea, October 2000. Some data on North Korea are estimated on the basis of incomplete material.

(15) It is widely believed that the famine and energy shortage has reduced the population of North Korea by two million in several years. According to data of the US State Department quoted in note (14), the population was 23 million in 1996 but only 21.2 million in 2000. This is a 7.8 percent reduction in four years.

(16) Ministry of National Defense of the Republic of Korea, National Defense White Papers 1999, pp.75-76.

(17) Considering the strong will of the Koreans to reunite the country, any peaceful division will be only the transitional stage towards final reunification. So there will not be a perpetual peaceful split in the peninsula that makes the USFK unnecessary.

(18) Bound by its own "non-intervention" foreign policy principle, China is not willing to openly exert its influence on North Korea. At the same time, China always cautions other countries that North Korea is a country accustomed to international isolation, and is hard to influence. See Wu Xibo, "On the Four Contradictions that Restrict the Foreign Policy of China", unpublished paper, 2001.

(19) For example, Kim Il Sung said in 1985 that the North-South talks should be held between the US and the two Koreas (without China), and that "China is not one party of the Korean problem". See Dangdai Zhonghan Guanxi, p. 311.

(20) China's foreign policy always lacks a "grand strategy" that a rising power should have in a post-Cold War era full of uncertainties, and has never been able to take the strategic initiative. The deepest and most valuable studies on this issue by Chinese students may be the articles appeared in Strategy and Management, a bi-monthly policy journal. For instance, Shiping Tang, "The Ideal Security Environment and the Grand Strategy of China in the New Century", Strategy and Management, Issue 6, 2000; Wenhui Qing and Sun Hui, "China's National Security at the Post-Cold War Era"; Yinhong Shi, and Song Dexing, "China's International Posture, Diplomatic Philosophy and Fundamental Strategic Thinking in the New Century", and Ruizhuang Zhang, "Rethink the 'Times' Problem in China's Diplomacy - Peace and Development Is Not the Mainstream of the Contemporary World", all in Strategy and Management, Issue 1, 2001.

(21) World Trade Organization membership, for instance.

(22) I do not plan to discuss here the negative impact of China's policy on the mainland-Taiwan relations.

(23) The United States' strategy in East Asia is undergoing a change from a "wheel" system, which emphasizes bilateral alliances centered on the US, to a "web" system, which emphasizes multilateral cooperation led by the US. In this new strategy, the relative importance of the US-South Korea alliance drops while that of the US-Japan alliance rises to the cornerstone of US's East Asia strategy. See D C Blair and J T Hanley Jr, "From Wheels to Webs: Reconstructing Asia-Pacific Security Arrangements", The Washington Quarterly, 24:1, Winter 2001, pp. 7-17. Admiral Dennis C Blair has been the Commander-in-Chief of US Pacific Command since 1998.

(24) In 1998, North Korea test-fired the Taepodong-1 ballistic trajectory missile across Japanese airspace. It caused great panic in Japan, just like the panic in the US after the Soviet Union launched the first man-made satellite in 1957.

Previous articles in this Heartland series on issues relating to the Korean peninsula include:

* Fig leaf Jun 15

* A Chinese viewpoint Jun 15

* The price of uncertainty: What Koreans want Jun 20