Retired PLA general voices frustration with capricious North Korea

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 08 October, 2013, 5:07pm
UPDATED : Wednesday, 09 October, 2013, 4:28pm

A retired Chinese general has written a scathing critique of North Korea, comparing its current situation to ancient times when campaigns to “bring peace” to the Korean peninsula cost imperial China dearly.

“Historically, this [area] has again and again developed into an [area] of strategic offence and defence, and has often become a threat to the central government, even leading to disastrous consequences,” retired Lieutenant General Wang Hongguang, 63, wrote in an article for National Humanity History magazine, a subsidiary publication of the People’s Daily.

Wang detailed how instability in Korea had brought down the Chinese Sui dynasty in the seventh century and how it had “accelerated colonialisation” of China by Western powers in the 19th century. The Korean War in the 1960s “has been a burden on China for sixty years,” wrote Wang, a former deputy commander of the Nanjing military region. “It is still affecting the country’s unification and development.”

His article coincides with South Korean intelligence stating that North Korea has re-activated its main nuclear reactor, the Yongbyon complex, which is able to produce enough plutonium to make one atomic bomb per year.

“We cannot underestimate North Korea’s commitment to have nuclear weapons,” wrote Wang. “Now we have to clearly point out to North Korea that, no matter whether they conduct another nuclear test or not, nuclear contamination cannot directly affect our national territory.”

Wang is the offspring of Chinese military elite. His father, Wang Jianqing, fought against Japan in the 1940s and rose to the rank of major general. His father-in-law, Gao Houliang, rose to the same rank in the PLA air force and fought in the Korean War.

In September, China imposed an unprecedented ban on the export of several chemicals and equipment to North Korea, following reports indicating efforts by Pyongyang to reactivate Yongbyon.

“Punishment is not the goal,” Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Hong Lei said in a press briefing after the ban was announced in September. The goal was “to encourage denuclearization on the Korean peninsula,” he said.

Many Chinese leading figures are becoming more critical of North Korea after the country’s third nuclear test in February this year, said Kim Hankwon, a research fellow at the Seoul-based Asan Institute for Policy Studies. “After a series of North Korean nuclear and long-range missile tests since the 1990s, the Chinese government’s distrust and anger against North Korea have increased,” he said.

China has tried to revive regional nuclear talks through a flurry of visits by diplomats to Pyongyang. Most prominently, Vice President Li Yuanchao attended the 60th Korean War anniversary activities in the North Korean capital in July, the highest-ranking visit since Kim Jong-un inherited leadership from his father Kim Jong-il in late December 2011.

In September, Beijing also hosted North Korea’s chief nuclear negotiator Kim Kye-gwan for a seminar on 10th anniversary of the beginning of the Six-Party talks in 2003, which were aimed at finding a negotiated solution to ending North Korea’s nuclear ambitions.