MTC has a provocative post up that will almost certainly get him into trouble with a few people in the East Asia studies circuit, but still certainly worth a read. He very validly points out that the DPRK’s most recent launch of a missile-rocket indeed puts US military interests within range of the DPRK’s IRBM (長距離ミサイル for those keeping score), which may in turn change some of the alliance calculus over the next few years. The South Koreans have always been willing to put up with far too much from the DPRK for Japan’s liking, but now with the US being in range at some point then this may alter the balance of concern. Furthermore, it dilutes one of the bargaining chips the US has held over Japan, and has used to get Japan to do things it may have otherwise not been particularly keen on doing (Iraq, withdrawing from the Azadegan oil field in Iran). In theory, over time the North Korean “ballistic missile threat” will be less likely to be utilized as some kind of of quid pro quo in alliance negotiations and should become more of a mutual interest. Cucek also correctly notes that the Chinese will be furious and will once again see their power and influence as not having brought the respect they believe it deserves.
This will hurt the Chinese in other ways than simply pride, however.
First, it gives Japan and the US a useful issue to bash the PRC over the head with in the UNSC, especially if the PRC goes ahead and vetoes any further sanctions. China’s image will deteriorate in Japan further as perceptions have already shifted from it being perceived as a “responsible power” when it first proposed the Six-Party Talks, to it now being perceived as more of an “enabler” of the DPRK and its various military machinations.
Second, given the second stage debris of the missile-rocket landed not a few hundred KMs from the Philippines, then the PRC’s song and dance about the new X-Band Radar proposed for southern Japan and/or the Philippines is going to look all the more hollow. Japan, Taiwan, Australia and the Philippines will be officially less than amused, but may also be very pleased as any further installation of BMD architecture such as the X-Band Radar in southern Japan or the Philippines will in practice, even if not officially, bring greater protection against the PRC’s own MRBMs. Further X-Band Radar installation will also help in enabling the US and Japan naval forces to stand their ground better against the DF-21D “Carrier Killer” within the key strategic triangle of Guam-Tokyo-Taipei. If the Chinese are unwilling to cut the DPRK adrift, or unable to bring them under control, then they have little valid leverage to push back against such plans.
Third, the PRC a few months into the DPRK’s succession had many of the state-associated think tank scholars spread the word regarding the DPRK having turned over a new page, confident that the DPRK would follow the PRC’s lead and pursue Deng Xiaoping-era style reforms. Apparently the PRC communicated to the other powers in the region that they were not to do anything that would “interfere” with the transition of power to Kim Jong-eun. Essentially this was a warning to respect China’s sphere of influence and to not attempt to put pressure on the DPRK which would destabilize it. This had led to fears of China potentially “colonizing” North Korea economically, but yesterday’s launch may well represent a rejection of such “guidance” from the PRC, or at the very least an attempt to extract more out of the Chinese in terms of assistance before the almost inevitable threat to detonate a nuclear device rises early next year. It may also reflect a recalibration of internal politics back towards the military, although I have no particular information that would confirm this. Giving in to the DPRK’s demands however, likely in defiance or ignorance of proposed sanctions by the ROK, Japan and the US, will however hurt China’s own regional credibility as well as its own security interests, as per point two above.