Wang Haiyun and China’s North Korean Contingency Scenarios

By | February 23, 2016 | No Comments

China Military Online's ode to the Shenyang military region | Image: China Military Online

China Military Online’s ode to the Shenyang military region | Image: China Military Online

Chinese Communist Party Chairman Xi Jinping has been rather busy lately with guiding, controlling, and intimidating the mainland news media and its overseas branches. To some observers, this drive toward more centralization and control is remarkable precisely because it is occuring in a system that is already heavily centralized and controlled. Chinese journalists as well as academics are asked to circle ever more rapturously around any number of locutions attributed to Xi.

What fewer people are asking is how Xi’s 48-character slogan and its inevitably uneven implementation will impact how the Chinese public reads and thinks about foreign policy. Xi Jinping has already put forward a number of slogans and initiatives — like “One Belt, One Road” and “the Chinese Dream” — which touch upon foreign policy and China’s depiction of itself in the world. Will Xi Jinping’s updates to the system of Chinese mass media change what we ultimately see in how Chinese scholars and journalists write about North Korea?

The terrain of discourse changes quite rapidly in the PRC. Things which had been laissez-faire are suddenly off-limits, or even dangerous. 1)This is one reason that Chinese humanities scholarship is often so circuitous — the circular presentation of data without much of a theoretical or thesis-oriented spine protects one from being pinned down as an unruly subversive. China’s North Korea discourse is not removed from this reality. This is unfortunate, since in recent years, it can be said that Chinese writing about North Korea has been at times refreshing in its diversity, even when it has been shot through with occasional blasts of xenophobia, reflexive anti-Americanism, cultural chauvinism, or reckless attempts to spill doubt upon any source of information about North Korea other than those radiating outward from the official broadcasting bunkers of CCTV or Korean Central News Agency in Pyongyang.

Another way of saying this is that we should be attuned to shades of difference in China’s North Korea debates which occur in public, even as those debates are increasingly stage-managed, controlled and proscribed by not just the Propaganda Ministry in Beijing, but Politburo members who should probably be concerned with other things. Most papers have been essentially neutered in their ability to challenge some of the accepted boundaries of the North Korea debate. Among these boundaries include no features on refugees, no discussion of political alternatives to Kimism in North Korea, not too much complaining about the difficulty of doing business in North Korea, and a limited discussion only of illegal trade or gaps in sanctions enforcement along the Chinese-North Korean border.

Questions of North Korean collapse, a nuclear accident (potentially brought on by US/ROK air strikes) or some kind of Syria scenario in North Korea, however, seem to be fair game, even if only broached in limited places and by reliably nationalistic commentators.

Wang Haiyun is one such commentator. He is a former General in the People’s Liberation Army, and is currently affiliated with a state think-tank in Shanghai. Prior to last week’s op-ed about North Korea, he had previously written in English about the American attempts to stir a “color revolution” in China, and, to my knowledge, has not been a prominent voice in the Korea debate.

Since global audiences are particularly receptive now to discovery and assessment of the Chinese line on North Korea, his recent op-ed made a few waves, however. The South China Morning Post asserted that Mr. Wang had staked out a very aggressive line against North Korea. SCMP on Wang Haiyun

There is some danger in accepting this reading of the editorial in question as a challenge to North Korea, full stop. After all, Beijing and the media under its direct and indirect influence are under pressure to provide evidence to political audiences in the United States and elsewhere that China is truly upset with North Korea, and that the PRC is considering very strong responses to North Korean provocations. The ability to convey this as a secondary theme in state-sponsored editorials otherwise focused on complaining about American imperialism and South Korean flunkeyism is a real art, one at which General Wang Haiyun excels.

But the aspect of this editorial which may be most interesting is the conclusion, about the most public statement one is likely to see in China that the public, as well as the military, should take interest some contingency planning for war in Korea. The reference to the possibility of North Korean refugees and deserters or otherwise commanderless KPA coming into China reflects not just China’s Korean War experience, but more recent encounters with isolated yet regular instances of armed and hungry KPA troops crossing the Tumen and Yalu Rivers into China.

There is also an interestingly-timed endorsement of a two-track strategy of negotiation between North Korea and its rivals, namely, that talks on denuclearization should proceed in parallel with talks geared toward a peace treaty. Since the article was published on February 16 in Chinese, it preceded by one day Foreign Minister Wang Yi’s endorsement of that very concept, which gives us all yet another thing to argue about as we admire the pure coordination and occasional change of tack from the New Helmsman and his Party-controlled press in Beijing.

Wang Haiyun, “China must prevent the outbreak of any chaos or war on the nation’s doorstep” 王海运:中国应如何制止家门口生乱生战, Huanqiu Shibao, February 16, 2016.

In the most recent period, the security situation on the Korean Peninsula has dramatically deteriorated [急剧恶化]. North Korea first carried out a hydrogen bomb test, and then launched the so-called “Kwangmyongsong-4 satellite” with its long-range missile system, doing so in spite of vehement objections from the international community and with no regard for the resolutions of the UN Security Council.

The US, Japan and South Korea [美日韩] are using the North Korean threat as a pretext to reinforce their military deployment in Northeast Asia. Washington has deployed an aircraft carrier, a B-52 bomber, a nuclear-powered submarine and special forces in its military bases in Japan and South Korea. In addition, it has made substantial progress in negotiation with Seoul on deploying the “THAAD” missile defense system on the peninsula. Given the gathering war clouds over the peninsula, the danger of an outbreak of chaos or war on the peninsula is dramatically increased [半岛生乱生战危险急剧增大], so much so that Western media have been spreading the rumor that the US, South Korea and Japan “have already decided to take military action against North Korea at the end of February” [已决定2月底对朝鲜实施军事打击].

The Chinese government’s position on Korean Peninsula issues is consistent and clear-cut: The PRC supports a nuclear-free peninsula and political dialogue, not chaos or war [不乱不战].

Responsibility for the root of regional tensions does not reside in China, but instead with Washington/Seoul and Pyongyang’s refusal to return to the Six-Party Talks, and, moreover, their provocative actions towards one other. There is no reason at all that China should suffer the danger of an outbreak of chaos or war on its doorstep, and China must therefore adopt forceful countermeasures.

First, China needs to mobilize the international community to persuade all concerned parties with well-founded reasons to prompt a resumption of the Six-Party Talks. We should make Pyongyang understand that it must completely cease nuclear tests and missile launches and accept international supervision so as to return to the Six-Party Talks in an active posture. This will send a message to all medium- and small-sized countries that any attempt to develop nuclear weapons and strategic bombs to safeguard national security will bring senseless calamity.

In the case that a war begins, North Korea would face disaster for its race [朝鲜将面临民族灾难], and, this time, China will not sacrifice its own national interests to go rescue a regime which does not take advice [中国不可能再次以民族牺牲去拯救一个不听劝告的政权].

We also need to make Seoul understand that introducing external forces to ratchet up regional tensions is only destructive, and has no benefits for South Korea. Relying on external forces for military deterrence against Pyongyang will definitely fail to achieve the reunification of the Korean Peninsula.

Working with US and Japan is extremely difficult, so we must induce the production of healthy and reasonable voices in those countries [国内健康力量发出理性声音] to make their policy-makers understand that the only proper path to resolution to the North Korean nuclear issue [唯一正确选择] lies in dialogues that facilitate the ratification of a peace treaty.

Moreover, China should make concerted efforts with Russia and other forces that object to creating tensions on the Korean Peninsula and which can stop the UN Security Council from using force [against North Korea]. Under no circumstances should the UN empower any country to start a war on the peninsula. A war waged on any grounds constitutes a grave challenge to world peace and runs counter to today’s world historical trends.

South Koreans must keep in mind that if chaos or war breaks out on the peninsula, their country will be at the forefront of the nations harmed. American people plan to increase military deployments as a means of strengthening strategic encirclement of China [加强对中国的战略围堵] and using methods which make trouble on the peninsula; this can only lead to a burdensome war which will lead to the consumption and steady weakening of US military power. With respect to Japan’s right-wing government, they crave the exacerbation of tensions on the Korean Peninsula, since it provides a pretext for expanding their military build-up and accelerating the realization of their dream of revived empire [加速实现其恢复帝国的梦想].

To all of these countries, it is necessary to say that they cannot stir trouble on China’s frontiers. Their wishful thinking should not lead to a lot of crooked and useless arguments 2)The phrase uses a couple of idioms: “要说服其不在中国周边惹事,只能是一厢情愿,不必枉费口舌.” While vague, this is not aimed at DPRK but rather the US/South Korea and Japan. The idiom suggests that these countries wish to justify their dream scenarios with respect to North Korea, but Chinese officials should not waste any time whatsoever in entertaining these fantasies. If there is a John Kerry reference in this editorial, this is it.

Third, Beijing had better make military preparations for war on the Korean Peninsula [要做好应对半岛发生战争的军事准备]. Military deployments along the northeastern border and maritime areas should be adjusted as soon as possible [尽快调整东北边境及海洋方面军事部署],making military and diplomatic preparations for all eventualities [做好应对各种可能危险的军事和外交准备]. Even if the dangerous probability of an outbreak of war on the peninsula is some small percentage, we have to be 100% prepared for it. It is critical to strengthen study and judgement of the situation, grasp accurately the relevant circumstances, determining in advance how the situation will unfold [必须加强情况研判,准确掌握相关情况、预判事态可能发展].

On this basis, we must quickly make relevant military preparations, for instance the method of response to US and Japanese fleets entering our maritime space, the method of response to Washington’s deployment of the missile defense system in South Korea, and how to deal with possible pollution along our border caused by military strikes on North Korean nuclear targets by the US, Japan and South Korea. We also need to fully consider how to cope with large-scale waves of refugees and military flotsam [散兵潮涌; i.e., deserters or random KPA] flooding in from North Korea.

Wang Haiyun, “China must prevent the outbreak of any chaos or war on the nation’s doorstep” 王海运:中国应如何制止家门口生乱生战, Huanqiu Shibao, February 16, 2016. [See also “Can war be stopped at China’s door?,” Global Times, February 18, 2016.] Translation by Adam Cathcart.

   [ + ]

1. This is one reason that Chinese humanities scholarship is often so circuitous — the circular presentation of data without much of a theoretical or thesis-oriented spine protects one from being pinned down as an unruly subversive.
2. The phrase uses a couple of idioms: “要说服其不在中国周边惹事,只能是一厢情愿,不必枉费口舌.” While vague, this is not aimed at DPRK but rather the US/South Korea and Japan. The idiom suggests that these countries wish to justify their dream scenarios with respect to North Korea, but Chinese officials should not waste any time whatsoever in entertaining these fantasies. If there is a John Kerry reference in this editorial, this is it.