I genuinely love South Korea. I was stationed there in 1999 to 2000. My wife is Korean, and I traveled everywhere I could in the nation. While my base was far from the DMZ, Seoul-the South’s capital city, was within artillery range of the DPRK’s (The Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, i.e. North Korea) guns. Whenever I traveled to Seoul I couldn’t help thinking this beautiful city with all its 20 million inhabitants could be cast into oblivion at any moment. For the South Korean people, this was just a fact of life. But for me, an American, that thought made me very uncomfortable.
North Korea’s “Day of the Sun”, the birthday of the nation’s founder, Kim Il Sung, went off without a nuclear test. Many observers thought if a nuclear test would happen, it would be on this day. The tension was increased with rhetoric that seems to have leaked from somewhere, that President Trump may attack the North if they determined a test was imminent. All in all, the parade was the same old propaganda we have come to know and despise from the North. Some new weapons were displayed, but nothing really earth shattering occurred.
This may indicate that the pressure from China on the regime may be bearing fruit. However, I am not ready to declare victory yet. Satellite imagery of the North’s Punggye-ri nuclear test site appears to show the DPRK’s test bomb is primed and ready to detonate. It is impossible to tell at this point how much influence China has over their rebellious client state.
There are some indications that China has run out of patience with the current leadership in Pyongyang. It is believed that Kim Jong Nam was being kept in reserve by the Chinese, in case they decided to install him as the leader of the DPRK. Un answered this challenge to his authority by having Nam murdered in a very public way, that would be obvious to anyone that the North was responsible for his death. Most average people do not have access to nerve agent they use to assassinate someone. But, the North Korean regime does.
China has declined the North’s coal imports, stifling their already anemic economy. China has also signaled a closer relationship is developing between the U.S. and China. Ultimately, for China, their economic relationship with America is much more important than supporting the North Korean regime. But, it would be wrong to assume China will solve our problems for us.
For years China has played a dangerous game of saying one thing about North Korea and then doing something else. They would publicly tell the North to settle down, then sell them a bunch of new weapons. This charade has been going on for decades.
The problem for the North now is, China seems to be looking at the Kim Jong Un regime as more of a liability than an asset. Certainly, China does not want millions of North Korean refugees flooding into Manchuria. They also do not want North Korea occupied by U.S. forces. The last thing China wants is the U.S. military pressed up against their border.
There are no good solutions to the North Korean problem. Every option gives way to unthinkable consequences. Again, I think back to my time in South Korea. While Stationed in Korea, we constantly trained for chemical attacks. If hostilities broke out, the assumption was the DPRK would launch SCUDs and other weapons equipped with chemical warheads. One day in Seoul, I was riding a bus through the city and I caught a glimpse of a massive kind of Disneyland in Seoul. I watched all these happy families enjoying themselves, laughing and playing with their children. Such a scene would not be uncommon in any big city in America. While taking in this pleasant scene, a dark thought crossed my mind. “Can you imagine these wonderful people being gassed right now from a DPRK missile?” That thought made me feel physically sick. That was in 2000. Now, the North has nuclear weapons they could unleash on Seoul. Like I said, there are NO easy answers in Korea.