Half the sunken Korean ship -- that's a big crane!
So, nice way to end the week — my neighbours might be going to war. Fuck.

I’ve been operating with newsblinders on lately as I try to keep everything on the rails with a new baby in the house (apologies for a lack of updates, but that’s why). As such, it hit me off guard when I read this Guardian article moments ago about South Korean findings that point to the North having sunk their ship back in March.

The short recap — military South Korean ship on routine patrol near disputed maritime boarder between the two nations blows up and sinks, killing 46 crew. Joint investigation with British, U.S., Swedish and Australian experts finds that “The evidence points overwhelmingly to the conclusion that the torpedo was fired from a North Korean submarine. There is no other plausible explanation.” DPRK, hearing of the report, announces loud and clear that should the South retaliate, it’ll be all out war. Keeping things in perspective, they issue the same warning when South Korean media makes fun of “Dear Leader”.

South Korea screams, “Something must be done. Blood for blood!” DPRK screams, “Better not, we might have nukes, and they might work.” Whitey nations scream, “Damn right something needs to be done! This isn’t fair! You’ve twisted our titties for too long!” DPRK screams, “Seriously, just let us blow your shit up. Don’t piss us off. We’re brainwashed, damn hungry and have not much to do!” Japan screams, “This is ridiculous, to hell with trying to work things out with you guys!” DPRK screams, “Any of you fucking pricks move, and I’ll execute every motherfucking last one of ya!”

China screams, “…”

Popular thought seems to be that China’s silence has little to do with the two countries shared historic distaste for McDonald’s, and more that China fears instability in its north eastern neighbour would cause an influx of cross-border shopping, and Dandong’s just not really setup for that.

Seriously, can it really be that China’s worried that Dongbei will be overrun with under-fed North Korean defectors? I mean, more than it already is? I lived in Dongbei, and the Korean influence is about the only thing its got going for it. And hell, even if the ENTIRE population of North Korea crossed the Yalu, it would only be the equivalent population increase of adding another Shanghai and Suzhou to the country. Surely not an inconsequential deal, but a drop of soju in the baijiu bucket, so to speak.

But China, think of the rewards — if the DPRK fell and North Korea re-joined the south, you would suddenly have a huge population who couldn’t afford Samsungs and would have to by cheap Changhong flatscreens. Plus it would open up the North to all sorts of development opportunities. But financial benefits aside, you’d look frigin’ awesome on the world stage China. Forget “One World, One Dream” and “Better City, Better Life” — we’re talking roles in international spy movies that don’t have you as the bad guy! You can’t buy that sort of PR!

I mean, at some point you need to get a little Janet in ya and ask yourself, “Kim, what have you done for me lately?” Ideologically, you guys couldn’t be more different. Modern China hasn’t had a cult of anyone in ages, and modern North Korea has never not had one. Your people have Playstations, Kim’s people don’t even have power stations. Beijing’s biggest headache is what Web sites to block, North Koreans aren’t even aware there is an Internet.

But look at who is on the other side of that — South Korea, a friend and major trading partner, an investor in your rise out of poverty, and an all-around decent bunch of folks. How many development zones has the DPRK kept running? And, of course, there’s the US. I hate to break it to ya, but some — not all — Americans just don’t understand China. They see you as a slightly-less Evil Empire™. I mean, if China was in a Bond movie, what character do you think China would be? Exactly.

However, if you do the right thing here and stop backing the Nightmare Nation at your border, you can go a long way to swaying that opinion. Sure, sure… who cares what a bunch of Yankees think, right? Well… the rest of us do. I mean, we don’t sit around and hang off of every word, but US media permeates and saturates more cultures than any other — probably more than every other combined. So you get a bit of a two-fer by getting them on your side… you get them, and most the rest of us.

Really, the only group that might have a negative reaction to you not supporting the DPRK is the DPRK… and even then it’s just a few people at the top — everyone else is too busy looking for weeds to eat. The whole country might be armed, but I doubt any of their rifles have leather straps.

So what the hell, lets say we give it a try. You’ve got this awesome amount of power and influence, why not use it to do a bit of good? Koreans on both sides of the 38th will thank you.


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  2. Ryan,

    I’m a Yank. I get it. The rest of the world doesn’t love us unless we are helping them with some sort of natural disaster they’ve just experienced, and I realize why people don’t love us. We’re arrogant at worst, and sometimes at best just inconsiderate. I try very hard to educate my friends into understanding the Chinese and China, but on the whole, you are still correct. Most Americans don’t understand China, and sadly many don’t want to.
    Your thoughts here make sense–in a warped way–but I doubt China even knows what to do in this case let alone how to do it. China has propped up the DPRK for so long that I doubt it can let go. Was it just a coincidence that right after the ship was sunk the DPRK Dear Leader visited China? Do you think he just came for the MayDay shopping? He was either begging for forgiveness or asking for China to veto any coming UN sanctions.
    OBTW, Yankees is how we spell it.

    • Y’know, it felt wrong when I spelled it with an “i”, but was so excited to be getting a blog post out of me for the first time in nearly three weeks on here, I just let it slide. Fixed now 🙂

      I think the average American’s opinion of China is about the equivalent of the average Chinese’s opinion of America. Different, but just as biased based on what’s convenient, easily digestible, and none conflicting with their own national identity. That, in no way is limited to these two nations — just addressing the topic at hand.

      As for Kim’s visit — definitely not a coincidence.

  3. Dongbei has more going for it that DRPK runaways! Indeed, it is a scientific fact that 东北人 are, on average, 5-13% more awesome than other kinds of people in China, and nearly 435% more awesome than the average 老外.

    (Incidentally, according to the same study, the average 老外 is drunk right now).

    In all seriousness though, this situation is scary as hell. There’s a large population of kids from South Korea at the school I teach at, and they’re all a bit scared to go home, plus scared for their families, and scared they’ll be drafted if/when they do go home this summer.

    I highly doubt China would actually back the DRPK in any significant way, were things to come to blows. They may be “allies”, but this isn’t the 50s. China doesn’t want to fight the US, especially not for such a stupid reason. Chinese media sources do seem to be covering the topic (People’s Daily English had a headline about it, so did the Chinese version) and very much presenting it as the DRPK’s fault, or at least suggesting all the evidence points that way. I would be very surprised if, should it come to war, we see China aid the DRPK in any meaningful way.

    • it is a scientific fact that 东北人 are, on average, 5-13% more awesome than other kinds of people in China, and nearly 435% more awesome than the average 老外. (Incidentally, according to the same study, the average 老外 is drunk right now).

      Haha. Agreed. I mean, my wife is at least 500% more awesome than me — and I’m usually drunk. And the LAST group of Chinese I want pissed off at my are f’ing 东北人! 🙂 But I do miss the Korean influence up there the most now living in the “south”. There’s just something cool about a group of rosy-cheeked Korean girls in traditional Korean dresses playing electric guitars, drums and keyboards.

  4. I think your view is extremely biased and misrepresented the real situation. The reason North and South Korea is split is because of the American influence.

    If American presence disappears from the region both Korea’s will unite and there will be peace.

    • DPRK – Either you’re a troll or you’re 6 years old. Thanks for making me LOL though.

      I mean, c’mon. Flocks of doves sporting olive branches will spontaneously appear above both Koreas and the soldiers on both sides will be rushing across the border to hug their counterparts if the last American leaves the region? Cite one example, just one, from modern history where any hostile international situation has been resolved that simply.

  5. Good article Ryan, but I think that you’re forgetting one simple point: China is doing well with the status quo. I mean if it ain’t broke, why try to fix it?

    South Korea is one of the biggest investors in China, and if the North fell you know that all of that extra money would go to developing their countrymen, and why would the PRC want to let that happen? Also, let’s not forget what a huge wave of Korean nationalism would do for national unity in Dongbei. Do you think that those very large Korean communities in Liaoning and Jilin would want to stay apart of China or join the New Korea.

    As much as I hate to say it, I think that China likes the current instability in the peninsula and wants to keep the standoff as is.

    • Unfortunately, Glen, I’m not so sure China is doing that well with the status quo. I’d say that it’s more likely that the stability of this country is closer to a fairy tale than truth. The economy, for instance, is not as stable as most would have you believe. If larger currency than 100RMB were printed, people would think that inflation is occurring, which of course it is, they would lose faith in the economy, and it could collapse. So much of what happens in China stands on the threshold of disaster if not for faith. It’s a form of religion, where instead of believing in a god as a higher power, there is belief in the absolute power of the state. It’s just as delusional as religion, and just as dangerous. I’m not saying that the government is going to collapse tomorrow, but faith is a fragile thing.

      China says over and over it wants to do the right thing. Well, here’s your chance. Step up to the plate. The right thing means more than just giving billions of dollars in aid to corrupt governments just to excuse internal corruption. I am by no means suggesting military action, I don’t think that would solve anything. In fact, I’m suggesting that something else is done so military action does not become a necessity.

      While China does nothing, North Korea accuses the US of defending South Korea. As far as I know, nobody has done anything in this conflict aside from North Korea. The US isn’t trying to start anything. Shots have already been fired, and now something ought to be said or done before this escalates into more than just a boat being sunk.

      Take a look at the size of the ship that was sunk, it’s not just some fishing boat, it’s a huge military vessel. Attacking it was an act of war. There is no standoff. Standoff implies that nobody’s doing anything. North Korea has already made a preemptive strike at South Korea. That’s fairly hostile. I also have a feeling that, if nothing is done, Kim Jong-MentalIllness is going to gain confidence and try something else to get shit started. Honestly, that guy is completely out of his gourd and nobody can really predict what he’s going to do. He’s a bit like Richard Nixon, who wanted everybody to think he was crazy enough that he might launch nukes, except that ‘Lil Kim really is a nutjob. Pretty much everybody’s policy with North Korea is and has been a failure. China’s policy just failed the least.

      • Meng, I know that China’s economy has its issues, but its hard to deny that it’s still growing. They have enjoyed being the largest growing economy in the world for years, and are well on their way to at the least matching Japan as the economic power in the region. A strong unified Korea (lead out of Seoul of course) that would be allied up with Japan poses a huge threat to China’s dream of East Asian hegemony.

        I certainly don’t think that anything that North Korea does is right, and I think that the PRC thinks so too. But it is in their benefit to keep Korea divided. Maybe it’s because I’ve studied too much 19th Century European History, but I see the PRC in a similar situation as Metternich was in setting up the Congress of Vienna. He had to keep Italy and especially Germany divided in order to preserve Austrian supremacy in the region, and that’s just what Hu needs to do now for his own sake. Unfortunately, that leaves the rest of us with a crazy-nuclear-armed dictator to deal with.

      • Well, yes, Glen, of course the Chinese economy is growing. They have the strongest capitalist structure in the world. Honestly, have you ever seen anything like the capitalism here in the west? Forget about the people screaming at you and blaring their music in the street to come buy their useless plastic shit every time you go somewhere. A building was recently erected here that a bunch of businessmen asked 200million yuan from the government for to build a special sports building for the school. They used about 40 million to build a completely useless structure that is only occasionally used for business meetings and pocketed the rest. Anyways, I don’t know if that strong economy is built on long-term investments as much as people think. I hear Chinese folk talk about how the American dollar is crap now, that it’s weak and shouldn’t be the international currency. Meanwhile they’re buying more of it than anybody else in the world. Many less fortunate folk are asked to donate their hard-earned money to the government when there’s a catastrophe like the recent earthquake with the excuse that the government doesn’t have much money. How much of that actually goes to relief and how much goes into local government officials’ pockets is anybody’s guess. Maybe I went too much into that, but my point is, a growing economy doesn’t mean it’s particularly stable.

        Unfortunately, I think the prospect of a unified Korea is a bit of a pipe dream. For one thing, the attack by North Korea has pretty much been verified unanimously. Numerous international participants agreed that the evidence incontrovertibly pointed to North Korea, including a torpedo that indicated it was made in North Korea. This is not just a matter of the US leaving the region, as many ignorant folk have alleged. The international community has been pretty fair-handed with the DPRK, including letting them keep their nuclear program. The main problem is that they’re not just run by a tyrant, he’s an irrational tyrant.

        Much of the reason China hasn’t done anything is that they aren’t really tied to North Korea anymore. There’s no ideological connection, and many Chinese folk don’t like Koreans. The DPRK isn’t the greatest ally. I mean, besides making their friends look bad in the eyes of the international community, they take aid from the PRC and do whatever they want. China is not going to piss of the US just to help an asshole like Kim. Actually, I give China a little credit for not jumping into action to help Kim, like many thought they would. No, folks, this is not World War III, China’s not that stupid.

        I’d like to have a strong UN resolution to deal with this, something backing the pacific Asian region as a whole. Let’s see Kim try to defy that. They’re in talks right now, hopefully they can come up with something viable that doesn’t involve nuclear weapons.

  6. I laughed at your facetious remark about China sharing a distaste for McDonalds. Maybe China’s government does care for McDonalds, but the people see McDonalds and Pizza Hut as gourmet restaurants. McDonalds is even planning to increase the number of outlets in China to 2,000 by year’s end.

    As for Americans (I’m the exception—I hope), most still view China through a lens that sees Maoist revolutionary zeal alive and dangerous as if it were a huge termite mound ready to eat the rest of the world. Most have no clue about what has changed in China since Mao’s death.

    If you write about China or mention it, eyes glaze over and if anyone says anything, it is usually about the evil empire–the red menace that wants to invade the US and destroy us.

    Why would China want to do that? After all, they are the landlord.

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  9. The continuing Korean peninsula crisis is as complex and overladen with issues as a table at a Korean barbecue joint is loaded down with dishes and drink, but its origins are pretty simple: the two post world war superpowers split the country down the middle and created a cold war microcosm that endures to this day.

    The southern half suffered under rightist authoritarian rule for a while before people power and economic success led to democracy while the north did relatively well in the immediate aftermath of the Korean war but was soon surpassed by the south and subsumed by the sociopathic inclinations of its leaders.

    No one in either of the Koreas is very fond of the US, China, Russia or Japan. The Koreans have been pushed around by everyone at one time or another, and they have come out of the multinational hazing a little bruised but mostly proud and defiant: hence the North Korean Juche ideology and the South’s cultural/industrial chauvinism. The diplomatic and military power dynamic both parties now find themselves locked into is very much a foreign construct that would be eminently easier to resolve if the surrounding powers that be let the Koreans handle their own affairs.

    • “The diplomatic and military power dynamic both parties now find themselves locked into is very much a foreign construct that would be eminently easier to resolve if the surrounding powers that be let the Koreans handle their own affairs.”

      That may be man, and I absolutely agree with the principle of what you’re saying, but thinking that there could be a real and plausible outcome without the intervention and influence of vested-interest countries is a bit naive I think. Funny that a fellow Canadian, as opposed to the fenqing trolls that sometimes inhabit these comments, is the one touting the “Korean problems are internal affairs, the world should just stay out of it!” We know that’s never going to happen, and so while the “if it could be done” might be eminently easier, there are few bigger “ifs” and so really arguing that as a path to resolution is like arguing that a world without money would benefit the poor.

      There really is only one clean way out of the mess in the Korean Peninsula, and that’s the DPRK opening up to reforms. Keep their propaganda, their Cult of the Kims, but enter into a phase of non-militaristic, people-feeding prosperity — plenty of other “communist” countries have done it and maintained their flare for red stares as a fashion item. I think the problem is that the military machine with the majority of power in North Korea is loathe to let that happen, as it doesn’t serve their primary function, nor would they come out in the end better served. The South, Japan and the US could do nothing to change that. But China might be able to.

  10. It’s been a while but I’m glad to see that I still view the world differently than you Ryan ;). You are oversimplifying the big crock of bubbling none-sense that is the Korean pen.

    Let me put it this way. Say you have a crazy psychopathic big brother in the attic, you’re terrified of it and will occasionally throw a bucket of fishheads up there but when the cops show up you will still fight tooth and nail to protect your brother. The Cop here is America and the brothers, korea. As for China, you can think of it as the irritated neighbor who’s sick and tired of the smell of fishheads but Fing hates the cops so will try to keep the crazy down and keep the Po Po away.

    Glen and Gab I think come closest to the mark and as usual I have no idea what the fuck Meng is on about.


    • In my opinion, the flaw in the analogy is that while China may have once been a backwoods, cop hating neighbour mired in its own ideology, I can’t help but feel the times are a-changing — and know full well that it could just be idealistic wishfulness.

      Where I think Glen gets it wrong, and yourself by agreement, is that nuclear weapons, missile tests and sinking ships aren’t the status quo. Mild sabre rattling and domestic propaganda is. Glen, Gabriel and yourself all seem to be answering “Why hasn’t China done anything until now?” That’s no longer the important question. With the North’s ability to level Seoul in just under an hour of declared war, I can’t imagine anyone wants to go to war and China could play a huge role in neutralizing that threat through diplomatic means.

      PS: Is it possible to criticize someone for oversimplifying things and then use brothers in attics and fishheads to layout your opinion? 😉

  11. I disagree. Look carefully at DPRK’s history not just the recent new coverage and the stuff you mentioned ie. nuclear weapons, missile tests and sinking ships would fit right in. Let me list some other episodes of NK’s craziness.

    The 1983 Burma assassination – The North Koreans tried to kill the South Korean President and most of his cabinet on their visit to Rangoon. They sent three agents to plant a bomb at a shrine to wipe the whole Southern leadership out . The President survived, but 18 other South Korean officials were blown to bits, along with a lot of Burmese. SK reponse cut off diplomatic relations, no action.

    1987 Airline bombing – Kimmy J himself ordered the bombing of a randomly-selected Korean Air flight that killed 135 people were killed. He thought it’d be a good way of scaring tourists off going to Seoul for the 1988 Olympics.

    1968 commando raid – a team of thirty-one Northern elite troops in ROK uniforms almost bluffed their way into the Presidential palace. Twenty-eight out of thirty-one died in the firefight that followed.

    Attempted uprising – The same year, the North landed 120 men on the East coast of S. Korea. Tried to incite an uprising. Blood shed followed and they shot a 10 year old who muttered something anti-commie. Only 7 out of 120 were captured.

    1996 Sub raid – a Northern sub dropped off 26 men, some in ROK uniforms, some in civvies lugging guns and RPGs.

    1976 axe murders – NK leutenent hacked 2 american officers to death with hatchets over a fight about a poplar tree. A show of force only by US and SK.

    Ps. who’s not a fan of the simpsons? Don’t you remember that holloween special where bart had a evil twin? I like my analogy.

  12. Another point, China’s support has nothing to due with communist/authoritarian solidarity. The fact is no one in China is fond of either Koreas but China supports the north because it doesn’t want a unified and powerful Korea plus it wants a counter to Japan. This is all a geopolitical balancing act made frustratingly difficult by Kim’s zany antics.

    also people who rely on the mainstream media are mistaken if they think south korea doesn’t hate america along with hating china, japan and the rest of Asia. Compare the relatively muted protests against NK in this incident versus the holy-shit uproar when two girls got accidentally run over by US army vehicle in 2002 or the silly thing with skaters at the olympics.

    you guys think chinese nationalists are bad… you will not believe how sensitive and angry these guys are.

  13. Ahhh. Here is my I told you so moment and it’s oh so sweet.

    “Where I think Glen gets it wrong, and yourself by agreement, is that nuclear weapons, missile tests and sinking ships aren’t the status quo. Mild sabre rattling and domestic propaganda is.”

    Russia says sea mine sunk Cheonan: report

    This takes the steam out of Japan, US, SK outrage which has past its height anyways.


    US-S.Korea naval drill first delayed then relocated. Sure sounds like a strong line.

    US-S.Korea naval drill to relocate to East Sea of Korea peninsula – KBS 100716

    For deeper geopolitical implications read

    South Korea reels as US backpedals

    Everything is back to

    • Nobody’s backpedaling. Just because Russia, who aren’t really a serious power anymore, says silly things like DPRK didn’t do it, doesn’t mean the rest of the world will agree in any way. There has already been an international consensus, irrefutable evidence. How do you explain torpedoes made by DPRK? I guess they were planted there, right? Reread the article where it says, “There is no possibility that the Cheonan was exploded after hitting a mine.” So, what, the guys on the Chenoan carried North Korean torpedoes, then intentionally crashed a mine so they could kill themselves and frame DPRK? Thin, really thin.

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