Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Dealing with North Korea as a "black swan"

Writing in the Washington Post, news analyst Fareed Zakaria asks what will happen when North Korea falls (that's his title, followed by an ellipsis for dramatic effect).

While most of the piece is a remedial review for those who haven't been paying attention, at the very end he poses some interesting questions that perhaps most people don't ask about North Korea. Of course, these are questions which people with a keen interest in the region (area specialists, foreign residents in South Korea or Japan, ROK citizens themselves, etc.) have been pondering for quite some time now:
There are big issues at stake. Does a unified Korea retain its close alliance with the United States? Does it keep the North's nuclear arsenal? Do American troops stay in the country? If the answer to all three questions is "yes," then a unified Korea will be an American ally, with American troops, and nuclear weapons -- sitting on China's border. How is Beijing likely to react to that? Would it move troops in to shore up the regime? What would South Korean and American forces do then?

When North Korea collapses, it is easy to imagine chaos on the Korean peninsula that triggers a series of reactions from Beijing and Washington that are competing and hostile. Forget genteel rows over the yuan's value -- this is what could produce serious geopolitical instability. And that's why it's crucial that the United States, China and South Korea start talking about "black swans."
Those are important questions (and I have all the right answers, by the way), and his advice is sound:
But to solve that problem, it will need to discuss with China the rules of the road when Pyongyang falls.
But frankly, the rest of the article is the same mundane repetition of the Western media's Cliff's Notes version of what's been going on lately. He even starts off with, "Previously, on Desperate Housewives, ..."

Well, no. He didn't. But he might as well have.

But perhaps I am too harsh. Not everyone who reads the WaPo has a stake in what happens on the Korean Peninsula as this Seoulite and his family and friends do (or "M" from Japan, or folks I know in US military uniform, etc.). So maybe they do in fact need a recap from time to time about the intrigue that's been going on up north (with or without the Western media's auto-reinforced interpretations) and what it might mean in the future.

And in that regard, the article is useful, and the conclusions do make sense: Talk with Beijing, have a roadmap, let's deal with this calmly. My added advice: Make Beijing not fear a Washington-allied unified Korea by, say, promising not to put US military bases in former DPRK territory.

Maybe such ideas like that would have made Mr Zakaria's anodyne op-ed a bit meatier.

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