“China and North Korea: A Tangled Partnership” an essay by Dan Miller

Today’s Guest Saturday post is by Dan Miller of the DanMillerInPanama blog. In Dan’s original post on April 16, 2013, he included the full text of an article from Stratfor. In the interest of brevity, I have removed the Stratfor article and instead provided you with a link to the article.


China and North Korea: A Tangled Partnership

Do we know what’s happening? Probably not.
But historical context may help.

The following article from Stratfor, republished with permission, provides useful historical context for the current situations in Korea and its usual (apparent) ally, China. It spans many centuries.

Topographic map of North Korea. Created with G...

Topographic map of North Korea. Created with GMT from SRTM data. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)


The Chinese ruling powers are new. Kim Jong-un and his regency are also relatively new. Nevertheless, we probably have better insights into what’s happening at the top in China than we do into what’s happening at the top in North Korea, aninformational black hole from which very little light escapes but into which much enters, to be filtered, refracted, reflected and often misunderstood when it gets there. There has been much speculation and I have certainly done at least my fair share .

Kim Jong-un is back

For a couple of weeks until very early on April 16th, Jim Jong-un had not appeared in public. I wondered whether he might have been “recalled” to China for reeducationconsultation. Then, he appeared.

All is temporarily “quiet” on the crazy Pyongyang front, and when you least expected it. After disappearing from the public eye for two weeks, America’s favorite “artificial” head of state, Kim Jong-un, re-emerged at midnight Monday to celebrate the most important holiday in North Korea—albeit a scaled down version without any fireworks, figurative or otherwise.

Last we checked, Kim had not been seen out in the open for nearly two weeks, which struck even the closest Korea watchers as odd, considering the state media had been continuing on about targetingTokyo and foreigners and more. There were whispers of a coup, and, not unlike like Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, who also enjoys his two-week private respites, there are obvious concerns about Kim’s personal security.

Here’s the text of the Stratfor article.

By Rodger Baker
Vice President of East Asia Analysis


My (Dan Miller) conclusions 

Where does the Stratfor article lead us? It confirms my understanding that China has one, and only one, overpowering interest: doing what the leadership there deems best for the leadership there rather than for the “little” people of China or, for that matter, for anyone elsewhere. It is my perception that the current chief executive of the United States also does what he deems, politically and ideologically, best for his current administration rather than for the people and the nation.

Russell-2In Bertrand Russell’s December, 1950 Nobel Prize acceptance speech, he spoke of politically powerful desires. Relevant here, he said:

[M]an differs from other animals in one very important respect, and that is that he has some desires which are, so to speak, infinite, which can never be fully gratified, and which would keep him restless even in Paradise. The boa constrictor, when he has had an adequate meal, goes to sleep, and does not wake until he needs another meal. Human beings, for the most part, are not like this. When the Arabs, who had been used to living sparingly on a few dates, acquired the riches of the Eastern Roman Empire, and dwelt in palaces of almost unbelievable luxury, they did not, on that account, become inactive. Hunger could no longer be a motive, for Greek slaves supplied them with exquisite viands at the slightest nod. But other desires kept them active: four in particular, which we can label acquisitiveness, rivalry, vanity, and love of power.

He continues by observing that of the four, love of power is the most compelling:

But great as is the influence of the motives we have been considering, there is one which outweighs them all. I mean the love of power. Love of power is closely akin to vanity, but it is not by any means the same thing. What vanity needs for its satisfaction is glory, and it is easy to have glory without power. The people who enjoy the greatest glory in the United States are film stars, but they can be put in their place by the Committee for Un-American Activities, which enjoys no glory whatever. In England, the King has more glory than the Prime Minister, but the Prime Minister has more power than the King. Many people prefer glory to power, but on the whole these people have less effect upon the course of events than those who prefer power to glory. When Blücher, in 1814, saw Napoleon’s palaces, he said, «Wasn’t he a fool to have all this and to go running after Moscow.» Napoleon, who certainly was not destitute of vanity, preferred power when he had to choose. To Blücher, this choice seemed foolish. Power, like vanity, is insatiable. Nothing short of omnipotence could satisfy it completely. And as it is especially the vice of energetic men, the causal efficacy of love of power is out of all proportion to its frequency. It is, indeed, by far the strongest motive in the lives of important men.

Love of power is greatly increased by the experience of power, and this applies to petty power as well as to that of potentates. In the happy days before 1914, when well-to-do ladies could acquire a host of servants, their pleasure in exercising power over the domestics steadily increased with age. Similarly, in any autocratic regime, the holders of power become increasingly tyrannical with experience of the delights that power can afford. Since power over human beings is shown in making them do what they would rather not do, the man who is actuated by love of power is more apt to inflict pain than to permit pleasure. If you ask your boss for leave of absence from the office on some legitimate occasion, his love of power will derive more satisfaction from a refusal than from a consent. If you require a building permit, the petty official concerned will obviously get more pleasure from saying «No» than from saying «Yes». It is this sort of thing which makes the love of power such a dangerous motive.

“Bertie,” while sometimes disparaged as “a very intelligent old silly,” had (and his words still have) much to recommend him and them. His comments quoted above may well be helpful in understanding what’s happening, and even in predicting what is likely to happen; not only in Asia.


About Dan

I was graduated from Yale University in 1963 with a B.A. in economics and from the University of Virginia School of law, where I was the notes editor of the Virginia Law Review, in 1966. Following four years of active duty with the Army JAG Corps, with two tours in Korea, I entered private practice in Washington, D.C. specializing in communications law. I retired in 1996 to sail with my wife, Jeanie, on our sailboat Namaste to and in the Caribbean. In 2002, we settled in the Republic of Panama and live in a very rural area up in the mountains.

2 thoughts on ““China and North Korea: A Tangled Partnership” an essay by Dan Miller

  1. Excellent post. I can’t imagine that china prefers to see our naval power shift over their way, as well as our attention. Stratfor apparently thinks we have a organized rational policy if I read this right. That is a stretch.

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