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Monday 21 Aug 2017 | 18:55 | SYDNEY

If Kim falls: China's role

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COMMENTS

9 January 2008 10:07

Some will be encouraged to see, in this newly released US joint think tank study, that China apparently has contingency plans to send troops into North Korea in the event the Pyongyang regime collapses. According to the report, based on discussions with Chinese North Korea specialists, China would send troops to provide relief, maintain order and secure North Korea's nuclear weapons. China is apparently even ready to discuss this issue with the US.

On one level this is a welcome sign that China is taking greater responsibility for events in North Korea, something the US has been encouraging for some time. But there is a less optimistic reading. The report says:

China's strong preference is to receive formal authorization and coordinate closely with the United Nations (UN) in such an endeavor. However, if the international community did not react in a timely manner as internal order in North Korea deteriorated rapidly, China would seek to take the initiative in restoring stability.

'Rapidly' is a pretty elastic term, and it's not hard to imagine circumstances in which China would argue that it had to act now, without waiting another moment for UN authorisation to move into North Korea. Indeed, regaining control of the nuclear arsenal would provide the perfect excuse for such action. This is not to suggest a Chinese plot to take over North Korean territory. But having Chinese (rather than multinational, UN-backed) peacekeepers in place might give Beijing a stronger hand in settling the new political arrangements for a reunified Korea. Or would it just make China look aggressive and unilateralist?

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