- The Washington Times - Thursday, January 10, 2008

China would send troops into North Korea if it thought that was necessary to stem a refugee flood because of instability in its hard-line communist neighbor, a report by two Washington think tanks finds.

Beijing would prefer to receive authorization from, and coordinate with, the United Nations in such a case, but would take the initiative to restore stability if necessary, says the paper, issued by the Center for Strategic and International Studies and the U.S. Institute of Peace.

“Contingency plans are in place” for the People’s Liberation Army to perform humanitarian missions and peacekeeping, or “order-keeping,” missions, the report says.

It says plans are also in place for the army to perform “environmental control missions” to clean up nuclear contamination caused by a strike on nuclear facilities near the Chinese border, and to “secure ‘loose nukes’ and fissile material.”

One of the report’s authors, John S. Park of the U.S. Institute of Peace, said yesterday that the report’s findings were based on discussions held in China in June and on participants’ responses to suggested scenarios.

The report, “Keeping an Eye on an Unruly Neighbor: Chinese Views of Economic Reform and Stability in North Korea,” cites an “apparent new willingness” among Chinese analysts and PLA researchers to talk about the danger of North Korean instability and how China might respond if its security is threatened.

Some, but not all, Chinese analysts “say explicitly that they favor holding a discussion on stability in North Korea in official channels with the United States, including possible joint responses in support of common objectives, such as securing nuclear weapons and fissile material,” the report says.

The report is based on discussions with North Korea specialists in China and covers topics including economic trends in North Korea, Sino-North Korean economic relations and North Korean political stability.

Among the report’s other findings were that China saw North Korea’s explosion of a nuclear device in 2006 as an act of defiance toward China as well as the international community at large. Beijing thinks it must now use pressure as well as inducement in response to North Korea’s nuclear efforts.

The report says Chinese analysts are debating whether North Korea will fulfill its promise to give up its nuclear weapons, and whether a treaty between the two countries should be revised or abandoned. They also are weighing the strategic value of North Korea to China.

Chinese analysts also are debating the likelihood of a rapid thaw in U.S. relations with Pyongyang and how that would affect Chinese interests, the study says.

In other areas, the report says Chinese analysts are less concerned about North Korea’s immediate economic prospects than they were a year ago, “reporting severe but stable conditions.”

Chinese specialists widely think the North Korean system will remain stable for the next few years barring the sudden death of North Korean leader Kim Jong-il or “external interference aimed at destabilizing the regime.”

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