Strategypage looks at North Korea:
One thing Chinese, Japanese, South Koreans and Americans agree on (according to recent polls) is that North Korea is dangerous and unpredictable. Opinion surveys in the United States show over 60 percent of Americans feel that way and current Chinese policy is being driven by the fact that Chinese popular opinion turned against North Korea before the government did and government efforts to use their vast propaganda bureaucracy to manipulate that opinion did not work because the anti-North Korea attitudes were too entrenched and proved impossible to change. For that, and many other reasons, the Chinese leaders are now seriously considering how to remove the Kim dynasty and what to replace it with.
Now let's review:
--President Trump has said that if China doesn't do something about North Korea, he will.
--During the Chinese leader's visit to America, our Navy struck Syria over the issue of chemical weapons. That is, he "did something."
--An American carrier task force is sailing for the region of North Korea, which is openly pursuing nuclear weapons. We don't need the carrier to "do something" about North Korea, but it is a very open signal of a lot of "something."
--The North Korean people are becoming openly contemptuous of the regime, with their crushing poverty and oppression removing the shards of fear of losing what little they have.
Are we in a period of China preparing to invade North Korea to install a new North Korean government that will abandon pursuit of nuclear weapons to prevent the humiliation of Trump "doing something" on North Korea's doorstep that would risk a teetering North Korea falling in ways China wouldn't like?
That is, China doesn't want North Korean refugees fleeing north (the DMZ is heavily fortified and mined); possibly South Korean troops advancing north, initially to protect Seoul from bombardment but perhaps later broadened to add a buffer across the entire length of the DMZ; and possibly a reunified Korea despite the lack of interest by South Koreans for paying for unification of desperately poor North Korea.
So perhaps China engineers a regime change in Pyongyang backed by Chinese invading troops with the quiet blessing of America, South Korea, and Japan (but not Russia). Most North Korean troops are based in the south facing the DMZ.
Perhaps China promises not to deploy heavy weapons and minimal troops in their newly cooperative vassal state, reducing the potential perceived need by South Koreans for a buffer further north to keep the more capable Chinese military from simply becoming the new threat to Seoul.
I'm not happy about China gaining more control of North Korea. But Chinese control is superior to a nuclear-armed nutball regime that we will get without a Chinese invasion and takeover.
Even an effective American-led strike campaign will leave the nutballs to rebuild. Stalling North Korea's nuclear drive is useful but not a lasting solution. China has an interest in killing the North Korean nuclear program.
Which, if my suspicions about North Korea-Iran links, harms Iran's nuclear path and perhaps makes strictly enforcing the highly flawed nuclear deal with Iran more acceptable.
And imagine the credit Trump will get by essentially demanding that China take on this dirty job--even if China was likely heading in this direction regardless of what Trump said. But Trump has said it. Resolving the North Korea nuclear problem will give Trump room to deal on other issues in Asia and the Pacific, perhaps planning the withdrawal of our last Army combat brigade from South Korea (maybe substituting a rotating mechanized battalion task force).
Trump also gets the ability to work on an Asia-Pacific trade deal by making it seem a bargaining chip that got China to deal with North Korea for us. "Only Trump can go to TPP" might be the new slogan.
And heck, in time the North Koreans might get more prosperous on China's dime to the point where South Korea no longer fears the price of unification; and the North Koreans might get tired of being owned by China.
UPDATE: Shortly after posting I see two items of note.
One, good God, no! Do not offer to trade away a "Finlandized" united Korea to get China's cooperation on stopping North Korea!
A Finlandized North Korea? Sure. But why would we abandon a longstanding American ally to persuade China to deal with North Korea when there are many reasons for China to do that job without the bonus retreat from South Korea?
Do you think Japan will feel more or less secure with South Korea neutral and potentially in hostile hands rather than continuing as a good American (and increasingly Japanese) ally?
Why is there a strong urge to give up way more than we need in order to get China to do what is in their interest anyway? Does anybody think China wants a nuclear-armed North Korea more free to threaten China as well as provoking serial nuclearization across Asia in response to North Korea's arsenal in service to a loon?
Also, South Korea is nervous about an American use of force against North Korea as our carrier gets closer to North Korea. Which serves to make China believe our threat is credible.
UPDATE: Remember that China has a motive to deprive America, Japan, and South Korea from having the need to deploy joint missile defenses that could be used against Chinese missiles as easily as against North Korean missiles.
At some level I expect that South Korea would want an added buffer zone north of Seoul if China invades North Korea.
But I wonder if that buffer zone as a permanent addition to South Korea would be off the table if China promised to demilitarize all of North Korea if given a green light to invade North Korea?
UPDATE: Well that's interesting:
A Chinese daily newspaper (Global Times) known for being a state-controlled media outlet used to test new ideas published an item today pointing out that if North Korea does not abandon its nuclear weapons program (which is seen as a threat to China) then China will bomb the nuclear facilities and North Korea will have to live with that or suffer further military and economic consequences they cannot respond to (by attacking China). This article also warned the United States not to contemplate doing this, as North Korea was for neighbor China to deal with, not some distant superpower. Within hours the article was removed from the Global Times website, but many people had seen it and it still existed in Google cache. In other words, China was telling North Korea that stronger measures from China were now a possibility. At the same time the U.S. was making it clear that the kind of attack on Syria the U.S. recently carried out could be tried on North Korea. China agrees that it might come to that but they insist that the bombs or missiles be Chinese.
So America is telling China to do something about North Korea or America will; and China is telling America and North Korea that military action is a possibility but that China will do the deed if necessary.
There is more at the link.