Kim Watch: a fisherman’s reincarnation

South Korean President Park Geun-hye presides over a meeting of her country’s National Security council on the decision to deploy a U.S. THAAD system.
July 14, 2016: South Korean President Park Geun-hye heads a meeting on the decision to deploy a U.S. THAAD system in the country, which angered China (source: dpa)
  • Seoul is working with the U.S. to deploy a THAAD anti-missile defense system in South Korea
  • This threatens China’s strategic interests, again pitting China and the U.S. against each other
  • In the bickering between the Chinese and Americans, Kim Jong-un will find room to maneuver.

This summer some Chinese people have been very busy on social media. Hundreds of thousands of posts denouncing the United States, Japan, the Philippines and South Korea have flooded websites. The outpouring of anger against the first three countries is the result of a ruling from the Permanent Court of Arbitration in The Hague, which found that China’s claim to most of the South China Sea is invalid. The Chinese have been called to boycott products from these countries. Many have forgotten that the internet they use to voice their protest is an American invention, the microchips crucial to their computers are from Japan and the dried mangoes they snack on are from the Philippines.

But Chinese anger at South Korea is a different story.

China sees South Korea’s decision to deploy a U.S. Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) anti-missile system as a direct threat to its own security. President Park Geun-hye has called THAAD “essential” for South Korea. While some other countries may see it as a threat, having the system is a matter of “life and death” for South Korea, according to President Park. She added that “there is no space for negotiation.”

Which country’s leader would not do the same if its citizens had to endure the North Korean madman’s threats on a daily basis?

South Korea has always trusted China to manage North Korea and stop it from developing nuclear weapons. However, the “six-party talks” have dragged on for more than 10 years, with the same issues rehashed again and again. Nothing has changed – except for North Korea taking away a big chunk of aid just for attending the talks. Even former Chinese Foreign Minister Li Zhaoxing admitted in his autobiography that North Korea is “out of China’s control.” Kim Jong-il and his son Kim Jong-un have never and will never give up the nuclear tests, because they are crucial to the regime’s survival.

Kim Jong-un will never give up nuclear tests, because they are crucial to the regime’s survival

South Korea’s decision to deploy the THAAD system has infuriated China and is forcing it to consider how to deal with this thorny situation. This plays right into Kim Jong-un’s hands. When two powerful countries are busy jostling with each other, a third country has a good chance of extracting some benefits. No wonder Kim Jong-un launched another three missiles after the THAAD news; he has again won while superpowers wrestle with each other.

A popular parable that originated during China’s “Warring States” period (475–221 B.C.) comes to mind. One day, a fisherman was walking on a beach. He saw a clam sun bathing, when suddenly a sandpiper hopped over and tried to yank the clam’s pearl away. The clam caught the sandpiper’s bill in its shell. As they were fighting, the fisherman was able to nab them both – and wasted nothing.

North Korea’s leader Kim Jong-un may not know this Chinese story, but he could easily be that Chinese fisherman’s reincarnation.

In Kim Watch, GIS Expert Kati Kang shares her insights into the policies of Kim Jong-un. For more, click here.

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