By: Andrew Sveda, Contributor
August of 2017 will be remembered by History as one of the most critical and dangerous times of the 21st Century. It was one where the threats of “fire and fury” loomed over not only citizens of the United States and North Korea, but the entire world. The threat of a nuclear war, possibly even a Third World War, seemed too real for everyone. Although the “greatest crisis…since the Cuban Missile Crisis,” in the words of Rep. Darrel Issa (R, CA), may slowly slip from memory, we, as Americans, cannot forget this time of trial that still continues today.
In fact, the conflict has merely begun a new stage. This is not a short-term problem; it has existed for decades. Despite its changes in severity, the challenge remains the same: confronting a rogue nation’s nuclear program and defiance of international law. Negotiations with the regime failed during the Clinton, Bush, and Obama Administrations, where North Korea agreed to “suspend” its nuclear programs, only to reinstate them a few years later. In an effort for lasting peace, the UN Security Council has instituted sanctions on North Korea since 2006, which have only increased throughout the eleven-year span. However, there is a reason why North Korea has been able to wield and continue to develop its arsenal: China.
The People’s Republic of China, a Communist nation itself, has been Kim Jong-Un’s most reliable ally. China is responsible for 90% of North Korea’s international trade and thus is dependent on Chinese President Xi Jinping for its energy and food needs. North Korea is only able to survive by China’s side-stepping of sanctions.
But why? Why would China choose to “prop up” such an infamous and volatile regime? The answer lies within its disapproval of South Korea and the United States. Specifically, China fears a weakened North Korea might propel a U.S.-South Korean attempt to overthrow Kim Jong-Un and unify Korea, despite reassurances from Secretary of State Rex Tillerson that this is not America’s intentions in the Far East.
Although China has refused to institute sanctions against North Korea, some journalists (and Trump) have argued that with the recent 15-0 UN Security Council vote on North Korean sanctions, the United States has finally pressured China into compliance. However, this will, unfortunately, probably not be the case.
Firstly, as I mentioned above, China’s eleven-year track record does not suggest it will easily bend to the will of UN sanctions. Moreover, despite extensive preexisting sanctions, China’s exports to North Korea has increased 30% and 17% for the second quarter of 2017 and the year to date, respectively. Clearly, China is, overall, increasing its trade with North Korea.
Secondly, even if the Chinese government cooperates to some degree, the new sanctions failed to limit trade in major goods. Specifically, China refused to limit its oil exports to North Korea, which is the only nation to export this resource to this regime. In addition, China’s second-largest import from North Korea, clothes, totaled a whopping $640 million, not to mention China’s $175 million exports on “fabric,” has not been restricted, let alone reduced, by these sanctions.
In the past days, news reports have discussed a halt on seafood trade from North Korea to China. Nevertheless, we must not consider this sole instance proof that China will finally agree to cripple its ally. The United States must not be afraid to sanction Chinese institutions that have undeterred trade with Kim Jong-Un; we must remain skeptical of China’s unknown intentions.
The same is true with its suspicious military aspirations. China has sought an aggressive military build-up campaign. It plans to nearly double its military expenditures by the end of the decade to $233 billion — compared to its 2010 figure of $123 billion. With skyrocketing funds, China has sought to become the world’s largest military power. China’s naval fleet will become the largest in about two years as it increases its grip on the South China Sea, where it is building artificial islands in international waters to serve as military bases. In a clear attempt to exert its power over the region, China captured an American “underwater drone” in the same region, and these hostile measures have occurred for years. For example, Chinese sailors tried to steal “acoustic equipment” from the USNS Impeccable in 2009. China is clearly attempting to outmuscle the United States, as it has claimed that America’s “freedom of navigation operations” are “a serious political and military provocation.” The U.S. Navy is clearly not the provocateur in the crisis, China is. China is not only attempting to reduce American influence in the Far East, it also seeks dominion over the entire region. In addition to muscling out a Vietnamese “gas-drilling project” out of its own “200-nautical-mile exclusive economic zone,” China seeks an aggressive expansionist land policy against its western neighbors, India and Bhutan, that has spiraled into the worst China-Indian crisis “in 30 years.” Additionally, China’s Air Force, which will overtake America’s air supremacy by 2030, has “routinized…intrusions into” both Japanese and Taiwanese waters, claiming these areas as international zones and that “it will be fine once they get used to it.” Specifically, Japan has intercepted 644 Chinese planes during an eight-month period in 2016 (over 2.5 per day), the highest levels since the Cold War, when the USSR would ceaselessly penetrate Japan’s airspace.
But China’s imperialistic actions are best seen in Africa, where China has built a “military base in Djibouti” that will extend China’s reach into the Indian Ocean and has become the continent’s “largest trading power.” While this may not seem to be a bad thing on the surface, many, such as the leader of the Central Bank of Nigeria, have shown discontent for China’s involvement in Africa: “China takes our primary goods and sells us manufactured ones…the essence of colonialism.” For example, China, even though it has invested tens of billions of dollars into infrastructure in countries such as Namibia, The New York Times reports that government “loans stipulate that a Chinese state-owned company must take the lead, ensuring that the work, skills and profits are kept largely in the Chinese family,” resulting in little value for “the Namibian economy.” This is the definition of imperialism— the exploitation of a nation’s natural resources and labor for the benefit of an outside party, leaving the host country with little to no tangible benefits. Even further, the Human Rights Watch has charged Chinese corporations with human rights violations in a Zambian copper mine for failing to provide “adequate protective gear.” China’s growing control of the African economy, thus, is not necessarily for the benefit of developing nations in that region, but rather for the benefit of the Chinese government, as it seeks to limit Western prominence on the continent.
Clearly, both militarily and economically, China is attempting to outmaneuver the United States, and this must produce the upmost concern by the latter. China is advancing its nuclear arsenal, and it is, as it has for several years, conducting joint military exercises with Russia. It has expressed its support of Iranian membership into the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO), a military alliance that is considered “a counterweight to” NATO, and it opposes the construction of a missile defense system, THAAD, in South Korea. China has even considered war with America “a practical reality.”
Washington can no longer be a silent witness to the growing power of China. We must realize that China is no longer just a rising power—it is a rising superpower. The recent nuclear threat from North Korea should be a wake-up call to the United States that we cannot continue our present course. We must respond.
Our goal is peace. America must devote the upmost strength to diplomatically approaching China’s aggressive, expansionist policies and its powerful influence on North Korea, but the only way that we can do so is from a position of strength. In the words of President Ronald Reagan, “We maintain the peace through our strength; weakness only invites aggression.”
While China and Russia have been rapidly increasing and modernizing their nuclear weapons (in addition to their conventional strength), the United States has actually decreased its arsenal over the past years. In addition, America is also losing its technological edge, as its warheads still run on “1970s-era computing systems,” and “Almost all” of America’s 6,800 nuclear weapons must be either “refurbished or replaced over the next 20 years” (America has not built any warheads since the end of the Cold War in 1991).
If America is to retain its place as the strongest nation in the world and the leader of the free world, it must not shirk its duty to protect itself and its allies. The recent North Korean threats should be a wake-up call for Americans: our military must adapt to the 21st Century if the United States is to remain a global superpower.
China and its closest allies do not stand for freedom. They are dictatorships, one-party states that continue to deprive their people of rights that we take for granted: freedom of conscience, freedom of religion, freedom of the press, the right to bear arms, the right to a fair trial, even the freedom to decide where to live (to name a few). It is for the sake of the free world and those who yearn for liberty that America must rebuild its military. Only then we will be in a position of strength to caution China against its hostile policies. Remember what Ronald Reagan said during his 1980 Presidential Campaign:
We know only too well that war comes not when the forces of freedom are strong, but when they are weak. It is then that tyrants are tempted.
History has shown, in spite of America’s mistakes, the world is a much safer place when America is strong. What we decide now will determine our course for decades to come.
Image Credits: By Vitaly V. Kuzmin – http://www.vitalykuzmin.net/?q=node/613, CC BY-SA 4.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=50857239
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