August 19, 2010 12:55
The U.S. Defense Department in its annual review of China's rising military might hinted at a warning that Beijing could deploy its troops in North Korea if political instability threatens to spill across the border.
"China's leaders hope to prevent regional instability from spilling across China's borders and thereby interfering with economic development or domestic stability. Changes in regional security dynamics -- such as perceived threats to China's ability to access and transport foreign resources, or disruptions on the Korean Peninsula -- could lead to shifts in China's military development and deployment patterns, likely with consequences for neighboring states," as the report delicately phrased it.
Put bluntly, the Chinese Army could be deployed along the border with North Korea if the North Korean regime collapses, threatening Beijing's interests.
This is the first time the U.S. government has openly mentioned China's possible military response to sudden changes in North Korea, meaning that it is taking a realistic approach to the role China plays in North Korean issues.
In May 2008, around 200 Chinese military engineers held an exercise setting up pontoon bridges across the Apnok (or Yalu) River that marks the border with the North and conducted other drills there, in what observers said was a preparation for sudden changes in North Korea.
In the defense review, the U.S. forecasts that the Chinese military will intervene in missions outside its borders in the event of "changes in regional security dynamics." A possible reunification of the Korean Peninsula led by South Korea following regime collapse in the North could be one such change. South Korea's efforts to achieve reunification in the event of a regime collapse in North Korea could meet with Chinese opposition if Beijing intends to maintain an allied government there.
The "unification tax" President Lee Myung-bak proposed in his Liberation Day speech on Sunday stirred up a tremendous amount of controversy due to perceptions that it reflects the South's intention to absorb North Korea. The presidential office tried to diffuse the situation by saying the purpose of the comments was merely to prepare people for the possibility of reunification, but it remains to be seen whether the international community will buy that line.
If both the U.S. and China view a sudden change in North Korea as a real possibility, South Korea, which will feel the brunt of any instability in the North, urgently needs to come up with a response.
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