Thursday, May 8, 2014

Is China in need of a short, victorious war?

In 1904, Russia's Interior Minister, Vyacheslav Plehve wrote "To avert a revolution, we need a small victorious war." In the face of growing economic troubles from slowing growth to a credit bubble to a real estate bubble, is the People's Republic of China cribbing notes from Plehve?

No sane military planner in the neighborhood of east Asia has neglected to plan for the collapse of North Korea. It's been clear for decades that the communist monarchy has past the point where peaceful reform without a disruptive revolution was likely to succeed. But it's only now that China's plans for such an event have seen the light of day. The plans, leaked to Japanese media, lay out how and what China would do in case of North Korean regime collapse.

Speculation that this is a signal to the world that China is planning regime change is provocative but well within the realm of possibility. The question is why? The DPRK could suffer forever without the prospect of a humanitarian intervention by the PRC. What is China's interest to create such a crisis? And that question brings us back to Plehve. Russia's attempt to create that small victorious war failed, and revolution followed soon thereafter.

If China feels a need for a patriotic release valve, where can it get its war with the least amount of negative consequences? Who is least likely to have friends, raise the least amount of fuss when their natural resources are exploited for the benefit of China, and generally provide a distracting soap opera to give Beijing time? All signs point to Korea for a location. With the current US administration in retreat over Russia's moves in Ukraine, the likelihood of US action in Korea is as low as it has ever been, and perhaps lower.