Should China Militarily Take Over North Korea?

I doubt the Chinese would want to overnight take on responsibility for the basket case that is North Korea, but if they did it seems this would be one of the least bad options for the United States to resolve the nuclear issue:

Flags of China and North Korea are seen outside the closed Ryugyong Korean Restaurant in Ningbo, Zhejiang province, China, April 12, 2016.

A longtime editor of a magazine that specializes in global power politics recently put forth a scenario where China would stage a takeover of North Korea, giving Washington and the rest of the world a nuclear weapons-free Korean Peninsula.

Bill Emmott, the former editor-in-chief of The Economist magazine, said such a move by China would not only gain Beijing a solid foothold on the Korean Peninsula, but also the opportunity to strengthen its own geopolitical position, enhance its global power status, perhaps even the ability to claim the reputation of a peacemaker.

That is the “least bad military option” vis a vis North Korea, Emmott said, in that it would avoid subjecting U.S. allies in Asia, including South Korea and Japan, to North Korea’s retaliation that could potentially devastate large parts of South Korea.

China’s takeover of North Korea, as Emmott sees it, would put North Korea “where the country’s post-Korean War history suggests it belongs: under a Chinese nuclear umbrella, benefiting from a credible security guarantee.”

He also said he sees incentives for North Koreans to go along with the plan: “Whereas a nuclear exchange with the U.S. would mean devastation, submission to China would promise survival, and presumably a degree of continued autonomy.”

Emmott said this strategy could win over a majority of North Korea’s military, “except those closest to Kim.”  [VOA News]

You can read more at the link, but considering the importance of race based nationalism in North Korea getting the military to go along with this idea I think would be a very tough sell.



I am a US military veteran that has served all over the world to include in Iraq, Afghanistan, and Korea. I have been blogging about Korea, Northeast Asia, and the US military for over 10 years.


  1. This could be troublesome:

    SEOUL, South Korea (AP) — A South Korean lawmaker said Tuesday that North Korean hackers may have stolen highly classified military documents that include U.S.-South Korean wartime “decapitation strike” plans against the North, according to South Korean media reports.

    North Korea has a surprisingly robust hacking department, especially considering their limited access. I’ve always wondered if they do it directly, or through proxy hackers in China and Eastern Europe.

    Still, knowing the plan, and being able to stop the plan are two different things.

  2. This would be the best solution to the problem. Benefit the the North Korean people enormously.

    America will still have to deal with an expansionist China, but will have to either way. As long as Taiwan is our ally we have a balance against the CHICOMS!

  3. @Ole Tanker, I would think from the Chinese perspective keeping the Kim regime going is a better alternative than absorbing the basket case that is North Korea. I can only see this scenario playing out if the regime is on the verge of collapse and China enters North Korea as “peacekeepers”.

  4. China has another similar option that doesn’t have to involve moving occupying troops into North Korea. They could engineer their own form of internal decapitation to end the Kim dynasty and install their own puppet leadership. They would have been able to do something like that more easily if they still had Kim Jong-nam but I’m sure they have other assets with enough legitimacy in North Korea to pull it off.

    This has several advantages for them:

      A less tyrannical leader might be more readily acceptable to the North Korean people, especially if he (or she) comes with a lifting of trade sanctions and greater prosperity.
      The North Koreans would be given a more open economy with China-like free markets.
      While South Korea and UN countries might protest mightily in public I suspect they may be more willing to go along with it in private because it would be a better alternative to the existing ones.
      South Korea won’t have to worry about a mass refugee migration of a neighboring failed state.
      They could also quickly take advantage of (exploit) trade and development opportunities with a more open and stable North Korea.
      After a period of outrage and venting, the UN countries will accept the new normal and declare an end to the Armistice.
      Even the USA would have to go along, especially after publicly indicating its willingness to accept massive South Korean collateral damage as the price for America’s own national security interests.
      China removes the North Korean nuclear threat, there is peace on the Korean peninsula, American troops go home and the world is more relieved.
      Of course, US troops won’t entirely go home. There will still be a nominal presence in South Korea and the large force in Japan, just to keep the Chinese honest.

    What Russia would think about all of that would still be left to be determined.


  5. Bingo JoeC, that is the scenario I see that would be best of all. Got to keep the North Korean Military in limbo. They are like a Rabid dog on a chain.

  6. @JoeC, the only alternative right now to Kim Jong-un for China would be to install Kim Pyong-il, who is Kim Jong-il’s brother. He is the last surviving child of Kim Il-sung.

    As far as China removing the leadership I don’t think we have reached that point yet. Remember the Chinese want to separate the US from the ROK. Kim Jong-un is doing a good job of making that happen with all the talk of freeze deals and peace treaties. What the Chinese don’t want is a war to remove the regime. That is the balancing act going on right now in my opinion.

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