North Korea’s claims that their continued pursuit of nuclear weapons and ballistic missile platforms intended to carry them is in response to America’s military presence in the region has been taken at face value by the Chinese government, it would seem. According to Chinese officials, a “dual suspension” of military activity on the Korean Peninsula remains the best option to diffuse the heightening tensions between Kim’s regime and the group of allies, led by the United States, that intends to see an end to Kim’s nuclear pursuits.
We believe that the ‘dual suspension’ proposal is the most feasible, fair and sensible plan in the present situation,” Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Geng Shuang said this week. “Not only can it relieve the present tense situation, it can also resolve all parties most pressing security concerns, and provide an opportunity and create conditions to resume talks, and find a breakthrough point to get out of trouble.”
While there may indeed be a level of validity to the claim that a mutual halt of military drills and missile tests in the region could diffuse a great deal of the tension mounting between Kim and Trump’s military entourage, there remains an issue with China’s delivery, and potentially, intent when making such suggestions. By equating American, South Korean, and Japanese military drills in the region to Kim’s nuclear tests, China is effectively vouching for North Korea’s claims that their tests are a response to America’s military presence – which is categorically false.
Kim Jong Un has made it clear that he believes becoming a viable nuclear power will offer his nation the means by which to enter into a new era of international trade, leveraged on the might of his nuclear-tipped missile stockpile. Repeated threats of pre-emptive nuclear strikes on American and allied targets, propaganda videos showing ICBMs obliterating Washington D.C., and aggressive assassination campaigns executed on foreign soil in recent years have all demonstrated North Korea’s position as the aggressor in international dealings. This, of course, is something China has opportunistically omitted from their strategy that seems to paint the U.S. and North Korea as peers in terms of responsibility for the ongoing standoff.
The United States has been conducting joint military exercises with South Korea since the end of the Korean War, and even Foal Eagle, which is among the largest regular military exercises on the globe and sees participation from U.S. and South Korean militaries, predates North Korea’s atomic weapons tests by nearly a decade. The drills have always been about concerns about North Korea’s aggression toward its neighbor to the South, and have only recently shifted in tone to address the possibility of nuclear war.
So if America and South Korea have been training to counter the North Korean threat for years before North Korea started lobbing missiles over Japan and setting of nukes in their own backyard, what substance is there to the claim that North Korea is now in a race against U.S. aggression, arming themselves to prevent an invasion they claim might come any time. That invasion, of course, didn’t happen throughout more than 50 years of staring one another down across the DMZ, long before the nation had any nuclear assets to speak of. To be blunt, it might boil down to a simple case of historical revisionism.
Historical revisionism is a common tactic in nation-level misinformation campaigns, but you may be most familiar with it from debates about the American Civil War. As arguments raged about removing statues of Confederate soldiers all around the country, many accused conservatives of using historical revisionism to shift perceptions of why the Civil War was fought, or about the actions of Confederate soldiers. The process is simple: the further you are removed from an event or topic, the easier it can be to meddle with the facts in subtle ways to support a different understanding of how or why an event took place.
In this case, because much of the world is thousands of miles and a hundred layers of media removed from what’s been going on between the United States and North Korea for the past few decades, there is ample opportunity to reshape the public’s understanding of history. North Korea has actively been working to convey a narrative that makes the U.S. a bullying foreign power, and by revising our understanding of the history of the relationship between the two states, they can bolster those claims with historical inaccuracies that are commonly accepted as true; inaccuracies like the idea that North Korea’s nuclear efforts were spurred by American aggression.
China’s nuanced support of North Korea has been pervasive throughout America’s effort to curb Kim’s nuclear ambitions. As North Korea’s primary trade partner, China accounts for a full 90% of the nation’s import and export market, and only recently began slowly implementing policies intended to stifle North Korea’s economy (while quietly expanding trade with them in other places). The Chinese government also provided North Korea with the timber trucks Kim’s regime converted into mobile ICBM launch platforms, though China claims they really didn’t suspect their trustworthy ally would do such a thing.
Despite President Trump’s efforts to keep relations with President Xi as friendly as possible, it does not appear as though China sees denuclearization as a positive outcome for the Korean Peninsula. Instead, China’s official policy seems to be that of aiding North Korean influence efforts, under the guise of being international peace keepers. By walking the line between the U.S. and North Korea, and treating their concerns as though they are equally founded and based in rationale, China lends credibility to North Korea’s complaints in the international theater, thereby discrediting the American position that a nuclear North Korea is bad for everyone, rather than just the U.S.
Meanwhile, China’s public efforts to seem like the reasonable party between two equally unreasonable states will only help to further position them as the dominant political power of the future, as unpopular American politics have threatened to dethrone the United States as a global leader in diplomacy. When all is said and done, war may be averted in North Korea through any number of viable solutions, but the only real winner may indeed be China.
Image courtesy of the Associated Press