Why China Could Invade North Korea

John Dale Grover

Security, Asia

Beijing might be compelled to act militarily if Pyongyang was attacked or collapsed on its own.

Why China Could Invade North Korea

Over the past few months, tensions between the United States and North Korea have increased, with Kim Jung-un testing a possible hydrogen bomb on September 3 and the United Nations Security Council voting to implement further sanctions shortly after. Writers have discussed American policy towards China, the possibility of a deal with North Korea, and the need to avoid backing Kim into a corner. However, China’s perspective and the genuine possibility of a limited or complete Chinese intervention into North Korea, has received less coverage. China might be compelled to act militarily if North Korea was attacked or collapsed on its own. Doing so would protect Beijing’s objectives of securing the border, preventing U.S. forces from nearing the Yalu River, and thwarting the emergence of a united, U.S.-allied democratic Korean state.

The assumption of a default North Korean-Chinese alliance is a legacy of the Cold War, and has often led to false assumptions about Beijing’s priorities. One major question is whether China would come to Kim’s aid in the event of war. After all, how would many of China’s citizens and military brass, having been fed a steady diet of nationalism, react if Beijing failed to protect its ally? However, others have maintained that China would keep out of the conflict since Kim has become more of a liability to Beijing. China’s leadership prizes stability and therefore would not risk $825.38 billion worth of trade with the United States and South Korea, let alone a nuclear war.

What a War Between NATO and Russia Would Look Like

The degree of China’s loyalty to North Korea is a good question. But it is better to ask what China would do if its core national interests were threatened and there was no trusted plan in place among Beijing, Washington and Seoul that addressed its concerns.

The first and most intuitive concern for China would be to contain the flow of North Korean refugees that would spill across the border. North Korea is a fragile state home to over twenty-five million people, many of whom have been living under conditions of extreme starvation, poverty, oppression and brainwashing. In the past, Beijing has had to deal with an…

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