North Korea Update

Asian nations consider sanctions on the DPRK. Meanwhile, Japan is indicating they're a foregone conclusion.

I think the parties involved know the test was likely a dud but they needed a reason to focus on North Korea and to put the screws to them. Partisans both left and right are now blamestorming about how we got here rather than what we do next. Largely because, frankly, that's an easier question to answer. We can all agree that a nuclear North Korea is nothing anybody wants. Not even China, their erstwhile ally.

The only two nations with any serious leverage over North Korea are Japan and China. The latter controls the oil pipeline from which Kim's Korea relies. Without that oil, they will quickly find their shortages even more dire than they already are. Japan's leverage comes in the form of remittances from their resident North Korean population. They are wealthy (by DPRK standards) and they send a good deal of cash back to their relatives in the DPRK. They also allow Korean freighters to dock there to trade. Eliminating that port as well as ports in China would be ruinous. Not even Kim would be able to hang on. He would be out of cash in short order. A lack of oil and a lack of cash would mean no heat for the winter, no food, nothing. The DPRK maintains an "Army First" policy. That is, soldiers are preferred among equals as they defend the realm. They get more food, better access to goods and so on. That said, the army is barely more than brigands at this point. They've reportedly robbed a Chinese bank near the DPRK border with their state issued AK-47s.

Until now, there wasn't enough political capital anywhere in Washington to do anything let alone get the Chinese on our side. I am not optimistic that we will be able to keep China on board if we're going to institute some serious sanctions against the DPRK. China fears a DPRK collapse more than a nuclear Korea so they're in a bind. They don't want a democratic and unified Korea on their border. It creates a border problem that they aren't posititioned to deal with at the moment and it would consume resources they need elsewhere. Nor can they risk a nuclear DPRK that has been a thorn in their side for a generation now. They don't listen to China and their brinkmanship tactics keep the US armed forces in theater and intensely focused on the region broadly. China's position until now has been to let the regime limp along so long as they kept the refugees from pouring over the border and keep the sabre rattling to an acceptable level. Having crossed this line, China has lost face and essentially has nowhere to go. They can't support them for fear of looking foolish and they can't sanction them too harshly lest the regime collapse and all hell breaks loose.

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