As North Korea’s flagrant treaty violations have increased in prominence as a news item, many people, almost exclusively in opposition to the Bush administration’s policy vis a vis war in Iraq, have begun to repeatedly ask the question, ‘Why is North Korea different?’ There are several reasons to be sure, but China is the element that makes any dealing with North Korea different from our dealings with almost anyone else.
Now, as in the past, the Chinese claim they have limited ability to sway the government of Kim Jon Il just as it had limited ability to sway the government of his father and predecessor Kim Il Sung, the man who started the Korean War of 1950. While almost everyone is rightly skeptical of this assertion by Beijing, North Korea does after all form a contiguous border with China along the southern bank of the Yalu River. In any possibility of war there, the Chinese would most certainly be keenly interested in the presence of foreign troops in close proximity to its territory, and it is very likely that military intervention by the Chinese Army would occur in such a case that they felt threatened.
This is not just idle speculation on my part. In November of 1950, with the North Korean army all but defeated and U.S. and South Korean forces in position within miles of the Yalu River, the Chinese Army attacked south with over 250,000 troops, resulting in a prolonging of the war another 2 1/2 years. Recently declassified Chinese and North Korean documents show that this decision to intervene was made 3 months prior by none other than Mao Zedong himself. This was 50 years ago when the Chinese army was so primitively equipped that as many of their soldiers died from exposure as from combat death, and still they pushed us back down the Korean peninsula. Today, the Chinese field a modern mechanized army that is over 10 times that size.
No such parallels exist in Iraq’s case. Even if there is some great eruption of anger in the Muslim world (like that represents any difference with the current world), they can’t really offer any help to Iraq. Saddam is on his own, right where he put himself. It’s only a matter of time now.
Scott Wacholtz is a Senior majoring in Computer Science.