Tensions around Korea are on the rise, and Pence is heading for Seoul. The US Air Force just dropped a massive bomb in Afghanistan after a missile attack on Syria, both steps aimed, it is said, at sending a message to Pyongyang. But Pyongyang already knows. Famous last words, you may say, but our analysis through the years has always been that Pyongyang is bluffing. They always have, because they know that any seriously aggressive action on their part would result in the end of the regime. This time doesn’t feel any different in essence from previous confrontations.
It’s more of a problem for the CCP than anyone, really. They have taken the position for the past few decades that a failed state next door is better than a re-unified Korea, but who knows? They may not actually be right about that. One of a handful of scenarios that spring to mind that could result in a shift in China’s own status quo is a conflagration in Korea and the collapse of the Pyongyang regime.
The main takeaway from what is happening now, we’d say, is that China’s hold over Pyongyang has fallen to minimal levels. How does that play out? The answer is probably not going to become obvious in the coming days, but only slowly over the months and even years ahead in terms of China’s handling of North Korea. We may never know exactly what happens, but any steps Beijing was to make to resolve the situation to its satisfaction and restore its preferred arrangement – docile failed state – are fraught with uncertainty.
Then again, here is a quote from Britain’s Commander-in-Chief Far East, Sir Chief Marshal Sir Robert Brooke-Popham, on December 5, 1941: “There are clear signs that Japan does not know which way to turn. Tojo is scratching his head. There are no signs that Japan is going to attack anyone.”