The Crimean Crisis Sets Dangerous Precedent for China's N. Korea Plans

Beijing is already sending signals that Moscow’s swift military push into the Ukraine’s Crimean peninsula will serve as a model for its own move into North Korea once the disintegration of the Kim Jong-un regime progresses further.

Monday’s editorial in China Economic Net — the state-run business-oriented website and a sister site of the Communist Party organ Global Times — is titled “Ukraine Unrest Will Not Affect Relations with China.”

The article purports to cite a statement by a Kiev-based diplomat surnamed Chen who denied that China is frustrated that the Ukrainian unrest has prevented delivery of grain under a $3 billion deal. That diplomat offers no particulars on grain delivery but does mention that Ukraine continues to deliver weapons systems to China, including a second Zubr-class air-cushioned landing craft and other unnamed weapons systems. Ukraine had been home to one of the former Soviet Union’s leading technological centers. It is also the source of the hull of China’s first aircraft carrier, the Liaoning.

The brief CE article’s drift becomes clear when it goes on to quote a statement by another diplomat named Qin Gang on Beijing’s view of the uprising and Putin’s decision to send troops into Ukraine.

“China believes the Ukrainian people are able to resolve their problems themselves,” Qin is quoted as saying, noting that “US president Barack Obama, on the other hand, has delivered a blunt warning to Russia that there will be costs for intervention in Ukraine.”

That’s followed by the statement of a fellow the state-backed think tank called the China International Institute for Strategic Society: “The Ukraine uprising is just another revolution triggered by the Western powers, particularly from the European Union. Ukraine’s future is still unpredictable.”

This brief “CE exclusive” leaves no doubt that Beijing doesn’t consider the sending of Russian troops as interfering in Ukrainian affairs but sees as meddling the statement by President Obama. The assessment of Ukraine’s future as “unpredictable” seems to imply that Russian troops may be necessary to guard against exigencies that may be triggered by that unpredictability.

Precisely the same kind of rationale will be advanced for Beijing’s rumored preparations to rush troops and armaments into N. Korea as soon as the current regime founders. Failure to do so would lead to possible chaos in N. Korea and a flood of refugees, many of them armed, flowing into China, goes the rationale. To prevent the instability from threatening the safety and stability of the border regions of China, Beijing must help maintain order in N. Korea if the current regime collapses. That explanation will be given to the world as Beijing executes a lightning deployment of troops, tanks and missiles into N. Korea.

Beijing and Moscow share similar interests and ambitions with respect to N. Korea and the Ukraine. N. Korea is China’s buffer against US troops in S. Korea and Japan. The Ukraine has been Russia’s main buffer against NATO. Its population of 50 million is about 17% ethnic Russian. That percentage is nearly twice as high in the southern Crimean peninsula which juts strategically into the Black Sea. Ukraine hosts several major Russian military bases and the only pipeline carrying Russian natural gas into Europe. Its membership in the EU would leave Russia in a state of dependence on a potentially adversarial nation.

Less than three days after uncontrolled protests forced Moscow-leaning Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych to flee south, Russia mobilized troops to prepare the Crimea to become a Russian puppet by putting military muscle behind a moribund independence movement. If Beijing needs a similar cover for its move into N. Korea, Kim Jong-un’s eldest brother Kim Jong-nam has been kept waiting in the wings under Chinese protection. China is also home to about three million Koreans, mostly emigrants from N. Korea living in the border regions of northeastern China. Many would welcome a chance to return home to participate in a new Beijing-run N. Korea.

This scenario has long been one of the potential nightmares that have been worrying Seoul and Washington. A sure way to ensure that it will come to pass would be to let Moscow have its way with Crimea and even the rest of the Ukraine. The prospect of precisely these kinds of opportunities for adventures against the West have encouraged Beijing and Moscow recently to renews their old alliance. It remains to be seen whether the US and its allies have the stomach to nip the Crimean adventure in the bud and forestall China’s move into N. Korea.