With friends like this.....

In November of 1950 the Chinese “Volunteer” Force came streaming across the Yalu and thus began one of America’s longest military retreats.   An American military command drowned in its own hubris, pushed on by a Man so immune to Failure that not even his own Superiors had the guts to rein him in.  

Flowing over the Yalu were China’s finest.  It’s Revolutionary Army both confident of victory and unfamiliar with failure.   Facing an Army grown soft from occupation duty in Japan and long bereft of any veteran leadership.   The Chinese PLA however, had only just wrapped up its own war, handily crushing an army led by incomparably corrupt and incompetent Chiang Kai Shek.   To America’s surprise, the Chinese PLA handily crushed CKS’s army.

Surprise, overconfidence and the full belief that they would be home for Christmas (or was it Thanksgiving?) led the American Army to take its eye off the ball.   While it fought quite heroically at Chosin Reservoir, it was without question soundly whipped by the Chinese all the same.  At least through the first winter. 

Eventually, the realization that the “Volunteers” had bit off more than they could chew led to truce talks.  It turns out the only thing China had at its disposal was…..men.   No planes, or food, or even shoes.   There was even a shortage of blood. 

At the end of the day, Mao was simply fighting for one thing:  Face.  It had been his idea to go into Korea.  A simpleminded decision that seemed like more of an afterthought than anything else.   One wonders what his decisionmaking process was?  Had he not witnessed the American War Machine only a few years previous?

As things went south China couldn’t just cut and run.  To do so would endanger its prestige in the Socialist World, and Mao’s amongst his colleagues.  At this point in time Mao was only “first among equals”.     And just as important, Mao would look bad in the eyes of Stalin.

The end result is that China saved North Korea from the Americans and South Koreans, but in the end not from itself.  

China had approximately 300,000 dead with just as many wounded.  

China had as many killed and wounded as North Korea! 

Without China, there would be no North Korea today.    (And probably no US Military Forces in Korea.)

And how does North Korea thank China for any of this?

Well….it doesn’t.

One would think China and North Korea would have a “special relationship”…..right?

This is how special that relationship is:

China accounts for approximately 70% of North Korea’s trade, and is obviously their largest trading partner.   NK meanwhile is around China’s 80th largest trading partner.   NK value of trade with China is $7 billion.   China’s trade value with South Korea is on a path to $300 billion.  Only 20% of Chinese view North Korea favorably.   China supplies nearly half of North Korea’s food and almost all of its energy needs.  It even allows banned nuclear components to slip across the border.  

And North Korea responds…..how?

By building nuclear weapons.   Sinking South Korean naval ships.  Firing test missiles over Japan into the opposite sea. 

It’s crazy.

Never has there been a more ungrateful nation.   Like the spoiled undeserving son of a wealthy man, NK has decided to be the fly in everyone’s ointment.    Paranoid, friendless…insecure.   Everyone is an enemy. 

Has North Korea publicly acknowledged to its own people the contributions of China to its own survival?  As surely as one can understand and realize it wasn’t the Chinese that defeated Japan, am I taking for granted that the North Koreans do not think it was China that saved them during the Korean War?

Quite a few Chinese families lost sons during this conflict. 

One would think that North Korea would’ve gone the way of Vietnam and mimicked the experience of China, turning itself into a burgeoning albeit localized economic powerhouse.   After all, didn’t the experience of “The War” teach NK to at least give lip service to China’s ideas and suggestions?


Several years ago the Leader of North Korea, Kim Jong IL, made a tour to Guangzhou and stayed in the White Swan Hotel.  The whole damn hotel was shut down so this one dude could stay.  China early on was trying to get these guys to see the light.

For some unknown reason, the brat just couldn’t be bothered.

“Fuck that.”

“We’d rather continue snuffing the light of hope out of our citizenry”.  

“We don’t want near absolute power…..we want absolute power!”

There may never be an example in modern world history where one country owed so much to another, and so willingly skipped out on the bill. 

Unfortunately, one doesn’t hear much from within China about this.    Once again, this all goes back to China’s damning lack of introspection.   Introspection needs to have a Free Press to foster debate and internal discussion.    That’s the only way to get better guys.  To step up.  In a very loose sense, North Korea was China’s Vietnam.   China’s casualties far exceeded anything America ever had in Vietnam.   So where’s the handwringing over the result?

Well, methinks all this mess with China’s involvement in North Korea has just got lost in the shuffle.  You see, Korea is China’s “Forgotten War”, too.     How does one find time to reflect on North Korea and the tragedy that was when you still have to internally resolve the Great Famine and the Cultural Revolution?  As those historical events were internal they’ve left lasting impressions.  China’s foray into North Korea hasn’t.

Still, Xi hasn’t even visited North Korea as President.  He’s been to South Korea though.  He knows where China’s future lies.  Sure as hell isn’t with NK. 

Yet as ludicrous as it may sound, one can within reason still lay some of the blame on North Korea’s behavior on China itself.   

If there was one country on the planet that really doesn’t need nuclear weapons I think that country would obviously be North Korea.  But what did China do to stop it?  What was China thinking?  Is China better off allowing NK to have nuclear weapons?  Really?  Aren’t your own damn nuclear weapons enough?

Surely China’s thinking isn’t as childish as,

 “The more the merrier.”

“Whatever America opposes we support!”

China’s fear of America on its borders is so great that it would rather have millions continue to live on the edge of starvation than accept the silly notion of American troops on its borders.  Yet another topic China is not willing to discuss with its People.

In sum, if America acted the way China did, both Japan and South Korea would have nuclear weapons.

As such, NK now has a bit of leverage over China.  Just a little.  And China stands idly by while Iran and North Korea continue to openly cooperate with each other in this regard.   Everyone knows with the advent of shale oil that America will be buying less oil from the Middle East.  That as a result China will be buying more from Saudi Arabia and Iraq and in effect be playing everybody off against one another for the best price possible.   Everyone knows Iran thus has next to zero leverage with 
China anymore in this regard.

North Korea may have robbed the candy store, but it was China that left the door open, and still does.  And to show its gratitude towards China what does North Korea do?  Well it slaps China’s face as it leaves the candy store of course.

Does China still have leverage over North Korea?  Sure does.  Will it use it?  Nope.  Why not?  The old fall back of “instability” of course.   China would rather keep North Korea as a thorn in the side of everyone else than force it to reform.   So in a sense China has blame here, too, if only because it has more ability to “solve” North Korea than anyone else.  

And let’s be honest:  we’d all like to see China “slap” North Korea around a bit. 


  1. North Korea is to China what China is to the rest of the world.

  2. There is a theory that the powers in East Asia (China & Japan) and further afield (US and Russia) actually prefer two Koreas and never want to see unification even under the South. Of course, they wish NK were less provocative, but would be happy with another Cuba-type regime. Of course, initially it would be a mess, but eventually a South-lead Korea would be a strong force on its own. If you look at Korean history, there are plenty of cases of both Chinese, and Japanese intervention in the Peninsula, and this is long before the last 100 years of Japanese colonialism, the Korean War, and the rest of it. It is similar to Germany/Russia in relation to Poland.
    Also, there has been a long history of a divided Korea too. Outside of periods of strength during the Silla Kingdom and later the last Joseon Dynasty, basically the Peninsula has been divided. So the current situation isn't actually that rare in Korean history.

  3. Very insightful of you.

    Without question there was a time when not just China, but Korea and Japan both preferred a divided peninsula. South Korea, having seen the costs and chaos of a Unified Germany, got cold feet. Japan would prefer a divided Korea as a Unified Korea over time would without question challenge Japan.

    And China....? China knew that South Korean factories would eventually move into North Korea, with all its cheap labor and renowned discipline of the workforce. How could China even compete with that? Zhang Yimou once famously said only North Korea could've put on a more disciplined Olympics show than China.

    A Unified Korea is a strong assertive Korea. China's leverage over Korea would drop. It's prestige as the "go to nation" when dealing with North Korea would cease. Countries would have less reason to "put up" with China on other issues.

    Better to keep North Korea desolate, backward and perpetually at the starvation level, right?


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