Kim Jong-dae, the editor-in-chief of the defense and security monthly D&D Focus (and a former defense advisor to late President Roh Moo-hyun), writes in the Hankyoreh’s Defense 21 that in response to the American development of its OPLAN 5029, predicated on sudden changes in North Korea, China has prepared a similar emergency plan. I’ll briefly summarize Kim’s article below (NOTE: this is NOT a direct translation).
This secret plan is named “the Chick Plan,” meaning that China would protect and manage North Korea like a hen does her eggs. This plan reportedly includes plans to occupy those areas of North Korea north of a line stretching from Nampo in the west to Wonsan in the east, maintain security throughout North Korea and block the flow of refugees into China.
The existence of this plan was learned during the trial of Park Chae-seo, a former South Korean spy recently sentenced to seven years in jail for leaking secret military documents to North Korea. Park said around 2004, during a period of tension between South Korea and the United States over OPLAN 5029, he learned of the plan from a director-level Chinese intelligence official. This was a time when Korea was on-guard regarding Chinese intervention in Korea due to Beijing’s “Northeast Project.” Park said the existence of the plan was reconfirmed by multiple Chinese officials afterwards. According to Kim, this gives Park’s claims substantial credibility.
Assuming Park is telling the truth, this means both China and the United States are preparing to intervene in Korea in the event of an emergency in North Korea, and in a worst case scenario, this could lead to a clash.
According to Park’s lawyers, both the North Korean and Chinese governments prevent Chinese businesses from investing south of the Nampo—Wonsan line. This would suggest that even if China were to intervene in the North to protect Chinese nationals, it would not move south of the Daedong River. This would also suggest that the Nampo—Wonsan line would be the southern boundary of a Chinese occupation zone. If China were to move further south to occupy areas near the South Korean border and areas of South Korean investment, it would cause headaches. Park also said in order to carry out the operation successfully, it has assembled PLA regulars in Shenyang and built operational roads crossing the Yalu and Tumen rivers at the cost of 2.5 trillion won.
Kim writes that while North Korea’s position on China’s plan is unclear, it does appear Pyongyang is getting a clear grasp of what CFC’s OPLAN 5027—04, adopted from 2004, entails. North Korea believes the plan is predicated on an aggressive occupation and Korean reunification, going completely beyond the CFC’s defensive war plans of the past. In August of 2004, the Rodong Shinmun blasted the plan in full detail. Later, when disagreements between the United States and the Roh Moo-hyun administration emerged over Concept Plan 5029, then CFC commander Leon LaPorte expressed extreme displeasure with Seoul, saying Seoul’s opposition to the plan would break the alliance. Startled, Seoul let the plan go through, albeit as a “Concept Plan” rather than an OPLAN.
Watching this, North Korea was gripped by fear that the United States might unilaterally occupy the North regardless of what Seoul thought. Pyongyang might have accepted the Chinese plan as a defensive mechanism to the US plan. The same goes for the Lee Myung-bak administration’s acceptance of OPLAN 5029. OPLAN 5029 and the Chinese plan clash on several points, and bring with them the strong possibility that China and the United States will race each other to North Korea, both sides overlooking Korean sovereignty in the process.
According to Kim, the Lee administration’s attitude has grown doubtful. With Chinese intervention in North Korea a near certainty in the event of instability, Lee directed his people not to talk with the Americans about an OPLAN 5029 predicated on Chinese intervention at last year’s SCM. Thanks to the China factor, the Lee administration, which initially included the need to for stabilization operation plans predicated on instability in the North in its military reform plans, adopted a more passive attitude regarding OPLAN 5029.
Kim says the Lee’s strategies and blueprints are pretty much moot, and that’s he’s got no long-term plans for peace, prosperity or security other than ignoring the North, depending on the United States. And with other countries intervening in North Korean issues, Seoul has turned into a passive actor. Kim concludes by accusing the Lee administration of orchestrating a “lost five years” in which Korea has become a mere spectator, unlike the previous two presidents who presented a vision for Northeast Asia and looked for an independent way of survival.
Marmot’s Note: I find the confirmation of Chinese operational plans to occupy North Korea much more interesting than Kim’s criticism of the Lee administration, mostly because I recall the Roh administration’s grand vision for North Korea and Northeast Asia, and seem to remember they were unmitigated disasters that pissed off everybody except North Korea, which showed its gratitude by conducting a nuclear test in 2006. I’ll take “ignore North Korea and let the chips fall as they may” over that every time.
I must confess, though, the China issue has me a bit torn — as a resident of Korea and somebody who would really like to see a united Korea under the rule of the ROK, it sucks that China’s prepared to come in. As a pragmatist weary of China, however, I can think of worse things than Beijing getting stuck sorting out the mess they helped make in North Korea.