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Sunday, June 30, 2013

Game over for the 'Hanschluss' scenario?

It was already very clear at the peak of KIM Jong-un's March Madness (see "This Time Is Different - Six Decades of North Korean Follies (The Umpteenth Final Countdown)"): China's new posture has dramatically changed the game, forcing Pyongyang leaders to reconsider their options. Does it mean that the "Hanschluss Scenario" is already dead? Not so fast.

In case you're not familiar with this excuse for a blog*, "Hanschluss" is the term I use for the progressive re-storytelling / re-formating of Korea as a part of China. Again, it doesn't need to go all the way to political integration (i.e. as another province or Special Autonomous Region) or de facto occupation: the infamous Northeast Project, the way revisionists and pseudo researchers have been consistently trying to rewrite history, redraw maps, or claim the Korean cultural heritage, all this amounts to the same. And again, there are countless variations in this scenario because even among hardliners, not everyone shares the same vision: defensive vs imperialistic, more or less comprehensive and pervasive...

I may sound paranoid, but judging by NLL transcripts, even KIM Jong-il worried about that. Yes, Kim The Second also suffered from a bad case of paranoia, but if he didn't, he wouldn't have survived that long. And he somehow managed to balance the three main paths up North, which I dubbed the "Juche Line" (KIM Il-sung's utopia, the illusion of independence, and the strong army that goes with it), the "Sunshine Line" (move closer to the South, pave the way for a reunification), and the "Beijing Line" (Collabos). But that was not a grand "divide and rule" strategy, barely day-to-day survival tactics.

Then LEE Myung-bak pulled the "Sunshine Line" out of the equation, right before the question of the succession became critical. And then came the other buldozer: if KIM Jong-un was briefed to stick to the Juche-Beijing routine, he pushed it far too far beyond the thin red line, alienating his last allies, eating away his last bargaining chips. Logically, the supporters of his regime in Beijing lost faith, and it wasn't long before the regime itself lost face.

Last week's "PARK Jinping" - "XI Geun-hye" summit clearly confirmed who had Beijing's favors now. But South Korea does more than replace North Korea as the favorite brother in the troubled family: it almost becomes an equal, receiving a treatment even fellow superpowers (the "s" being purely theoretical here) never got from China. The only legitimate interlocutor in the peninsula, until the other half decides to act decently.

Memo to Pyongyang leaders: if you can complain as much as you want about not being able to meet the right level of interlocutors, know that you're the ones setting the bar. And know that the new PRC-ROK love story is not just at the Xi-Park level: body languages spoke volumes during the Contract-Signing Olympics that preceded the first speeches. New contracts here, new Samsung plant there (Hyundai might invest in Xi'an as well), PARK Geun-hye's charm offensive reached for the Chinese people: yes, Koreans can be not only friendly but also generous neighbors, right here and now - imagine what it will be when our Northern brothers join the party (no pun intended), what a boom for Northeast China!
Speaking of Northeast China, a memo to Northeast Project leaders: if Korea is treated as an equal by your own State, forget about Hanschlussing it. And forget about keeping South Korea out of the North Korean picture.
Heck, while I'm at it, a memo to hatemongers across Northeast Asia: South Korea offered to repatriate the remains of hundreds of Chinese troops fallen during the Korean War, and China offered to help solve POW issues. If you want peace, you can prepare for war, but also repair war damages.

So "all is well, all will be well, all goes as well as possible", would say Candide: the DPRK will try to save face, maybe by bringing new faces (no, PAK Pong-ju is not a new face, and no, JANG Sung-taek is not immortal), the "Hanschluss Scenario" is dead, and China and Korea will live happily ever after in a peaceful region.
Wait a sec'.

Judging by recent news, China is not precisely slowing down in its northwestern projects, across Tibetan and Uighur territories:
  • Lhasa's controversial renovation plans added to international outrage, to the point the local party official had to issue this "positive denial" in the media**: "the project has enhanced protection of Tibetan cultures, improved the old city's infrastructures and lifted the living conditions there".
  • XI Jinping may not be HU Jintao, he did send the troops and tanks to Urumqi, where the situation remains explosive (see Barbara Demick's "Chinese crack down on violence in western Uighur region" - LA Times, 20130629)

And I'm not aware of any crackdown on revisionism this side of the Yalu river. Pseudo-researchers keep being taken non seriously by Chinese scholars on tour overseas, but also kindly tolerated by national authorities, just like the Japanese government lets Uyoku dantai propaganda trucks freely roam its capital.
Anyway, even if this PRC-ROK summit was very good PR, and even if most tricky issues opposing both countries were eluded, a few dissensions were raised in public, and the usual differences in interpretation remained evident.
So as usual, let's wait, see, and remain alert.
Maybe Kim Jong-un is grumbling in his war room, wishing he were some kind of superhero able to make all his worries disappear, and to skip penance time. Maybe in the same room, a few people wish they were real heroes, with enough guts to make him disappear.

Meanwhile, South Korea and Japan plan to resume their own Two Party Talks during ASEAN reunions in Brunei***. China would be willing to help.

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* see previous episodes, for instance "Re-engaging North Korea - A Four Party Talk"(on blogules: "China-North Korea : the Great Hanschluss still the base case scenario")
** "Lhasa completes renovation of old city" (Xinhua, 20130630)
*** "Top diplomats from S. Korea, Japan to hold talks in Brunei" (Yonhap News 20130630)

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