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February 08, 2014



Certainly my amateur perception is that China has gone from viewing NK as a client to seeing it as rogue.

Dan Hardie

It's worth reading this story from last October about the Norks were begging the Chinese for more electricity. Things sound desperate: 'Pyongyang requires nearly six times the amount of its annual electricity production capacity to meet the nation’s basic power needs and is urgently seeking assistance from its ally China, a North Korean electrical engineer told RFA’s Korean Service...'

According to RFA, a Chinese technical team was despatched to the DPRK. Oddly enough, Beijing then said 'Well, we'd love to give you a lot more power, but there's this technical problem, and there's that one, and there's this other thing, and then...'

No doubt every piece of infrastructure North Korea has is in appalling shape, but I also suspect the Chinese would manage to get power into the DPRK if Kim was playing ball. If the Chinese are literally pulling the plug on North Korea, and Pyongyang still hasn't fallen into line, it seems quite possible there are senior people in Beijing saying 'what's it going to take?'

Any occupation and reconstruction of North Korea is going to cost a hell of a lot of money: do any of the China-savvy people here think that, if the Norks get nutty enough, the Chinese might just go ahead and invade anyway?

Dan Hardie

Oops,I mis-remembered the article from when I first read it. Actually, the Chinese engineers said 'Your power generating capacity is fucked, but we could export electricity to you easily'. But Beijing refused to supply anything unless the Norks paid for it in advance.

If this kind of thing is happening in other fields, as seems rather likely- in food supply, say, or fertiliser exports- then that's one reason why the Chinese might have decided to call time on the Kim dynasty, or demand serious reform. If the pit seems to be getting deeper and deeper, sooner or later you want to stop throwing money in it.

Also, if anyone is thinking of war, how long can North Korea fight for if it's currently only producing one-sixth of the electricity it needs?


In a real fight I imagine that songun policy would mean, basically,pulling the plug on the rest of the country and devoting that one-sixth entirely to the army. But, as you say, generation caps ity isn't their only problem - and things will only get worse once substations start getting hit.


I have also no idea whether one-sixth of the national demand would be enough to keep the KPA fighting. I'd imagine so, at least in the short term. In fact they'd probably be able to keep going for a couple of weeks with no electricity grid whatsoever. Everything important will have generators (radars, radios, etc) I would think.


Off topic, but thanks to whoever recommended the Otto Prohaska books - just finished the first one and it wasn't half bad.


To Dan's point about whether China might invade NK if things get crazy enough, I don't count myself as "China-savvy" but I'm going to go ahead and add something anyway. There was an article in FP last year speculating that Xi's belligerence over the Diaoyu / Senkaku might be motivated in part by his wish to prompt the PLA to get its house in order: the thinking being that it has perhaps become a little too focused on its commercial interests (of which it has many) and needs a little reminding that it is also by the way an army that needs to Be Prepared and so forth. Is it possible to see stability maintenance in a crumbling NK as an attractive option to Xi because it may provide the least risky - in international diplomacy terms - opportunity to get the PLA out and active in the field?

Apologies if this is just the bat's nuts in IR terms.

Richard J

Ajay> I won't hold them out as literary masterpieces, but as unjustly forgotten comedic gems, I'm glad they exist.


I'll look you up when the war is over...


Damn. look for you


... an hour and a half from now.


The "sea of fire" scenario depends, I suppose, on various KPA officers being willing to carry out orders (for mass killing of civilians) for which they will get prosecuted or just killed after the North is defeated. The Chinese are in a good position to judge just how likely that chain of command is to hold if it comes to it. It may be that they're getting fairly confident that the "incinerate Seoul" order wouldn't be followed. (Neither would the "incinerate Dalian, Shanghai, Shenyang and Tianjin" order, mutatis mutandis.) This would give everyone a bit more strategic flex.


It may be that they're getting fairly confident that the "incinerate Seoul" order wouldn't be followed

A game theorist writes: that's the sort of thing that you'd probably want to be "really quite" confident about before it materially changed your optimal strategy.


If you plan on being in Seoul at the time, yes. If you plan on being in Beijing, probably less so.


I suppose if you were holding onto a large portfolio of US Treasury bonds and wondering how you could ever liquidate it without massive loss ...

Chris Williams

Also, the (barely) conceivable end-games for the KPA which don't involve "death and loss of all they hold dear" only apply _if_ they are incinerating Seoul in the context of a US / PRC stand-off. If the PRC has clearly cast them loose, then not so much. Not only that, but I would suspect that the PLA is going to be far better placed than the ROC to (a) assess morale at the mid levels of the KPA and (b) influence their attitudes, perhaps by pointing to the examples of Stanislaus Petrov and/or Hermann Goering.

But, yeah, I wouldn't bet on it either.

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