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WikiLeaks: China and North Korea

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There's been a good deal of "nothing to see here" world weariness among commentators assessing the WikiLeaks document dump. But this seems rather significant to me:

Senior Chinese officials have said the Korean peninsula should be reunified under Seoul's control, according to leaked classified US diplomatic cables.

They are said to have told an ex-South Korean minister China placed little value on the North as a buffer state....

Mr Chun said the Chinese officials "were ready to 'face the new reality' that the DPRK [Democratic People's Republic of Korea] now had little value to China as a buffer state - a view that since North Korea's 2006 nuclear test had reportedly gained traction among senior PRC [People's Republic of China] leaders."

"Chun argued that in the event of a North Korean collapse, China would clearly 'not welcome' any US military presence north of the DMZ [Demilitarised Zone]," the ambassador's message said.

"The PRC would be comfortable with a reunified Korea controlled by Seoul and anchored to the United States in a 'benign alliance' - as long as Korea was not hostile towards China," it added.


If true, that seems to be an important shift and holds open the possibility of U.S.-China cooperation toward reunification, something I didn't think was all that probable, especially if it entailed a U.S. military presence remaining on the peninsula. Obviously we don't yet know the full story, nor is it clear whether enough of the Chinese leadership feels strongly enough about dumping North Korea as a buffer to actually effect change in North Korea. But still, it holds out an encouraging hope that South Korea, the U.S. and China can reach a modus-vivendi in the event the North collapses.

This is also a pretty interesting case for the utility of secrecy: is it better, or worse, from a U.S. standpoint, that the North Koreans hear about this?

Update: Drezner says not so fast:


I don't doubt that Chinese officials said everything reported in the documents. I do doubt that those statements mean that China is willing to walk away from North Korea. It means that Chinese diplomats are... er.... diplomatic. They will tell U.S. and South Korean officials some of what they want to hear. I'm sure that they will say somewhat different things to their North Korean counterparts.

The key is to determine whether China's actions reflect their words. And over the past six months, China has not acted in a manner consistent with Tisdall's claims.

Fair point, although I do think that China's tipping of the hat that they would be OK with a reunified peninsula still bound to the U.S. military is a significant move - although it's obviously unclear how widely that view is shared within China.