Saturday, April 6, 2013

How China enables North Korea’s mischief 

Pyongyang's missile, Beijing's launcher

By Gordon G. Chang / NEW YORK DAILY NEW: Wednesday, April 3, 2013 


KNS/AFP/Getty Images

North Korean leader Kim Jong Un (c.) speaking to functionaries of the Workers' Party of Korea in Pyongyang.

Washington is looking to China to rein in the North Koreans. Unfortunately, Beijing has been busy giving the Kim regime the means to rock the world. The weapon at the heart of this story is called the KN-08 — an intermediate-range ballistic missile that Pyongyang could not launch without Beijing’s direct assistance.

Monday afternoon, following a series of provocative statements and actions by Kim Jong Un, the Pentagon announced the U.S. was stationing near the North Korean coast both a warship and an SBX-1 sea-based radar platform.

The ship, the John S. McCain, is an Aegis-equipped destroyer that is designed to shoot down missiles. Which missile might Pyongyang launch? In December, the North fired off its longest-range rocket, the Unha-3. Many analysts expect the next test will be of its newest missile, the road-mobile KN-08.

At least, that’s what U.S. intelligence seems to think. Last month, Adm. James Winnefeld, vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, noted this missile could probably hit the U.S. (he was likely referring to Alaska, but it’s not clear). Also in March, Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel cited the KN-08 as a reason for the administration’s decision to deploy 14 additional missile interceptors in Alaska.

Why is the U.S. so concerned about a missile that does not have the longest range in North Korea’s arsenal?

Simple: It takes weeks to transport, assemble, fuel and prepare the longest-range missiles, giving the Pentagon many opportunities to destroy them on the ground.

The KN-08, however, is a different story. It sits on a large vehicle that can hide and shoot, ruling out the possibility of reliably destroying launchers before they unleash their missiles.
And guess what? It is China that recently transferred to North Korea those mobile launchers, a clear violation of UN Security Council sanctions.

Ted Parsons of IHS Jane’s Defense Weekly, a leading analyst of the industry, said the sale of the launchers for the KN-08 “would require approval from the highest levels of the Chinese government and the People’s Liberation Army,” and that conclusion is surely correct given China’s top-down system.

Beijing’s transfer of the equipment, which Pyongyang showed off in its April 15 military parade last year, is an indication that — China’s public statements to the contrary — the Chinese are not trying to restrain North Korea.

Why not?

The problem at the moment is that China’s Communist Party, like the North Korean regime, is going through an unsettling leadership transition. In this tumultuous transfer of power, the People’s Liberation Army, which has generally maintained its pro-Pyongyang outlook, is gaining influence — and it may now be the most powerful faction in the party.

There are many Beijing policymakers who know their country’s support of Pyongyang undercuts China’s long-term interests. There is, however, no needed consensus to dump the Kim family — especially because Chinese generals and admirals are able to substantially influence policies on the Korean peninsula.

Beijing cast its ballot for UN sanctions on North Korea in March, and many hailed that as a sign of progress. Yet China has voted for sanctions in the past, made a great show of complying with them at first — and then gone back to selling North Korea almost all that it asked for. Now, there are reports that since the middle of last month, China’s troops, planes and ships have been mobilizing near the Korean border. Are they there to start another round of the Korean War or to stop it?

We do not know. But the Chinese, by supplying the North Koreans with weaponry, material support and diplomatic assistance, have enabled their dangerous friends to destabilize the international community. The consequences of Beijing’s mischief could be historic.

Chang is the author of “Nuclear Showdown: North Korea Takes On the World.” Follow him on Twitter at @GordonGChang.

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