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China is the single most impediment to Korean Reunification

Paper No. 6349                                Dated 19-Feb-2018

By Dr Subhash Kapila

Korean Reunification like the Germany Reunification can be brought about only when the citizens of North Korea in a massive upsurge like the East Germans tore down the Berlin Wall. Even if the above is attempted by the North Korean masses, China would not permit the end-aim to be achieved.

A unified Korean Peninsula would be a strong military and nuclear power sitting on the doorsteps of China’s highly industrialised North East and it would be a comprehensive challenge to China in geopolitical, strategic and military terms.

Korean Reunification would be the natural urge and aspiration of all Koreans but what some South Korean Presidents in the past and the present South Korean President Moon do not recognise is that no amount of China –appeasement and political outreaches to North Korea would bring about this Korean Reunification.

The point also missed in the Korean Reunification discourse by policy analysts is that while all Reunification initiatives have originated from South Korea there have been no corresponding or matching initiatives from the North Korean leadership.

Simply because North Korea is under the fierce grip of a dictatorial and ruthless ruling dynasty whose continued survival depends upon the enslavement of North Korea by brutal suppression and fear. Reunification of the Korean Peninsula would be unthinkable for the North Korean dictator who has executed his own uncle and his own Generals on the slightest hint of opposition.

China therefore has a vested interest in the perpetuation of the North Korean dictatorial dynasts as China’s purpose is solved by the coincident aims of both the North Korean dictators and China’s military-dominated leadership.

The next aspect that needs to be examined is that why China has a morbid fear of Korean Reunification besides the geopolitical and military aspects. Here again the answer is very simple  in that China fears that a Reunified Korea is likely to be dominated by the South Korean establishment by virtue of its economic strengths and standing in the global community.

China has a morbid fear that such a Reunified Korea under South Korean domination would not be amenable to China’s influence and control despite any Chinese manipulative processes.

A Reunified Korea is more than likely to tilt towards the United States and the Western countries, to the detriment of China’s national security interests.

 It is also likely that like the Reunified Germany which continued to be a staunch NATO Alliance partner, a Reunified Korea would continue to be a strong and committed partner of the US-Allied Bilateral Mutual Security Pact.

Imagine China’s strategic concerns and fears of the disappearance of the 38th Parallel on which South Korean and US Forces are currently deployed against China-dominated North Korea and the resultant deployment of Reunified Korean Forces along with US Forces deployed directly on the Chinese borders minus the North Korea buffer.

The other question that needs to be debated as to the likelihood of a Reunified Korea being weaned away by China or Russia so that the balance of power on the Korean Peninsula is not overturned.

 All indicators presently available suggest that such an eventuality is presently highly improbable. The North Korean masses which have stood impoverished and brutally suppressed by its dynasts for so many decades and also conscious that China has been complicit in their brutal suppression are highly unlikely to support a China-tilt of a Reunified Korea.

Russia’s opposition of a Reunified Korea cannot be assessed as falling in the same intensity as China’s opposition. China’s domination of North Korea’s decision-making processes far outweighs that of Russia. Russian opposition to Korean Reunification is synchronous with the state of China-Russia relations and therefore not an enduring constant.

The last question that hovers in this debate is whether South Korea is reasonably confident or is it possible that South Korea can overcome China’s opposition to the emergence of a Reunified Korea?  In my assessment it is futile for South Korean Presidents and policy establishments to hope or strive to remove China as a major impediment to Korean Reunification.

China would agree to a Reunified Korea provided it receives iron-clad guarantees from the potential Reunified Korea leadership that a Reunified Korea `would demand withdrawal of all US Forces from the Korean Peninsula and the destruction of the nuclear arsenal that currently is in possession of North Korea.

The above capitulation of a Reunified Korea is not even a remote possibility as it would be tantamount to foreclosing of all strategic options of a Reunified Korea.

In conclusion, the question awaiting an answer is as to what option does South Korea has to remove China’s impediments to Korean Reunification? South Korea has no options of diplomatic processes or peace dialogues to bring about Korean Reunification. South Korea has to whip up mass hysteria in North Korea to dismantle the North Korean regime like the tearing down of the Berlin War and achieve Korean Reunification.

(Dr Subhash Kapila is a graduate of the Royal British Army Staff College, Camberley and combines a rich experience of Indian Army, Cabinet Secretariat, and diplomatic assignments in Bhutan, Japan, South Korea and USA. Currently, Consultant International Relations & Strategic Affairs with South Asia Analysis Group. He can be reached at