Thursday, October 12, 2006

Closer than lips and teeth

Before the 12th of October, and the 11th of September, and the 9th of November, there was the 4th of June. At least, I think of it as the 4th of June, though I suppose it began on the 3rd of the June. I was softer clay then, so it was the 4th of June that impressed me the most. I cannot really claim any family quarrel with the government of the Renegade Mainland Provinces. My grandfather, who spent part of his childhood in the old Republic of China, and whose uncle disappeared forever into Mao’s prisons in 1949, made his peace with them well enough, and must have made a dozen visits from the late 70s onwards to coal mines in Gansu and suchlike. My grandfather was in Beijing that night, and has always said that the media descriptions of it as a ‘massacre’ were propaganda. Unfortunately I can’t remember him saying what it was, just what it wasn’t. I think it was that thing more romantic and indefensible, an armed uprising quashed.

My only visit to Northeast Asia was a few years ago, and I went to the Republic of Korea. One night at the end of the conference I went out for dinner with a Canadian, a Hong Konger, and many Koreans. I must stress that both the Canadian and Hong Konger were really really nice, very intelligent, and tremendously good company, and I don’t want to personally slight either of them, but the ironies of this anecdote are too tempting. First, I remember the Canadian talked for a while about how difficult it was in Canada, being next to a big overbearing neighbour like the United States, and all the Koreans listened politely. Then the conversation shifted, and the Hong Konger asked one of the Koreans if he travelled to China often. ‘Yes, I’ve been to Yentai several times,’ he replied. ‘Yentai? I don’t know it,’ said the Hong Konger. ‘You should,’ said the Korean. ‘It’s a city of four million people.’ And so it is! It’s there in Shandong, just across the water from Korea. I thought that was so cool, a country where a highly educated and well-travelled citizen can never have heard of a city of four million people. But I don’t want to go there myself. I don’t plan on watching the 1936, oops 2008, Olympics, either.

Now I am going to come to some sort of point. Let’s imagine for a second that everything the left-leaning commentariat says about Israel was true, and that it really was an armed camp, a rogue state, a brutal military regime that lived to mess with its law-abiding neighbours. Now, let’s imagine that it had no real economy, had no way of meeting its own food and energy needs, and was propped up in toto by another much larger and more viable country. By India, say, as part of some wacky geopolitical calculation involving keeping the Muslim world distracted. Now, if Israel tested a nuclear bomb and followed it up with scary sabre-rattling gestures, don’t you think everyone would be giving India some rather hard stares? Don’t you think everyone would be saying, ‘the way to get at these Zionist wackoes is, we’ve got to lean heavy on India’? I thought you would.

I suggest that North Korea exists because the government of the Renegade Mainland Provinces wants it to exist, and it will continue to exist as long as it is useful to them. The day it ceases to be useful, there will be a controlled implosion, and the regime will be replaced by one that is more to Beijing’s liking. But so long as it remains useful, there is nothing anybody else can do about it. However, I am happy to defer to anyone who has a more informed opinion than I do!


Marco said...

I don't know; for me the date that still sticks in my mind is the 9th of November. I always found it a tad ironic that it is also 9/11, as it is written in the country in which it happened, but I repeat myself. I hoped that North Korea could be a little like East Germany, and have the same happy ending. Rather than the Soviet Union no longer needing East Germany, it just became too difficult to keep the Iron Curtain down. It would be nice if North Korea's China border started leaking like a sieve with North Koreans moving to South Korea.

Dave said...

Hmm. I suspect that the reason this does not already happen is that there are (allegedly) rather a lot of mines between the north and south. Not to mention rather a lot of paranoia on both sides.

But here's one I have to bow out of, knowing next to nothing of a factual nature about either state. Less, in fact, than the Canadian in question, I feel certain.

Marco said...

Not between the North and South, between the North and the further North(China). The path of least resistance for defectors is probably through corrupt Chinese officialdom. Just like the Hungarian fences were the path of least resistance for East Germans.

Jenny said...

From my watching of documentaries on the subject, there is already a leaking of North Koreans into and through China (some of them stay there, others try to get over the mountains to Nepal and India or practice accents/language and get fake passports so they look like Hong Kong tourists and get out by going "home"). There's an underground railroad in place. The Chinese make an effort to catch them, then they send them back to North Korea, where they end up in reeducation camps or dead, or both.

Point being, leaking like a sieve isn't much use when the place you leak to has a policy of ensuring the only place you end up is back where you started (in a worse scenario too).

Nato said...

For some other enlightening facts about China's continued economic expansion (and the ongoing rush to globalisation), try Thomas Freidman's "The World is Flat"

I'm only 1/3 of the way through, and although it's Ameri-centric, he has (unlike many of his countrymen) actually travelled to the places he writes about.

Some interesting insights.

Marco said...

The path through Hungary for East Germans was just a waypoint to get to West Germany, rather than just a way to get out to anywhere but East Germany. Being that there is considerable money that could be made by people smuggling (In a very similar vein to the Germanies), it may get to the point where it becomes ever more expensive for the Chinese to stimy the flow. It may be more effective than sanctions to offer asylum more directly to North Korean refugees. The US and China are a little co-dependant on trade at the moment, so it shouldn't be hard to slip in some bargaining on sanctions/asylum re North Korea.