CIVIL WAR IN NORTH KOREA
Civil unrest has broken out across North Korea, driving waves of refugees across the border into China. To avert a humanitarian catastrophe, China must end the civil war and install a pro-China regime. This, of course, is easier said than done. North Korea has a large army and a nuclear arsenal. In this game, you play China. To succeed, you must neutralize North Korea’s nuclear arsenal, occupy much of the country, and gain the support of the DPRK’s neighbors.
In this game, China gets to be the good guy. Ultimately, North Korea is China’s problem, and the Chinese will have to risk their blood and treasure to turn the DPRK into a good neighbor. The West (the USA, Japan and South Korea) is genuinely concerned about the North’s nuclear weapons and the regime’s human rights abuses. However, to the West, North Korea is a manageable problem. The Kims have proven themselves to be reasonable autocrats who simply want to remain in power. Nuclear weapons are simply tools to keep the US from invading North Korea and imposing regime change. The US and Japan have also invested heavily in destroyers that can shoot down North Korean ICBMs. Simply put, North Korea is not an existential threat to the US or its allies, and the West can afford to ignore the DPRK. If North Korea collapsed into civil war, the West would simply look on as it has in Syria, the South Sudan, Ukraine, Yemen and other internal conflicts.
NORTH KOREA IS CHINA’S PROBLEM
China won’t be able to ignore regime collapse and civil unrest in a neighboring country. Refugees will put pressure on the resources of neighboring provinces, and China cannot take the risk of a pro Western faction gaining the upper hand. The former possibility is the one that probably keeps Beijing up at night. China does not need a nuclear armed neighbor with close ties to the United States. If it looked like a faction that was unfriendly to China was going to win, China would probably have to intervene militarily. The refugee problem would pose a subtler threat to Chinese security interests. Parts of Northern China were once majority Korean. If five million Korean refugees find their way into China, Koreans could become the majority in certain border regions. This could become a problem long-term if Korean majority areas decide they would rather leave the PRC and join a prosperous, democratic and reunified Korea. An area like the Yanbian Korean Autonomous Prefecture could easily become a hotbed of secession. China takes its sovereignty seriously, and would probably be willing to risk nuclear war to protect its interests. After all, the threat of war with a nuclear armed power did not deter China from intervening in the last Korean civil war.
CHINA NEEDS THE WEST’S HELP
Ideally, China would like a stable neighbor with no nukes, no US air bases and lots of Samsung plants. This means that China will need the help of neighboring countries such as Japan, South Korea, Russia and the US. Such a military intervention would be a major undertaking, even for a powerful country like China. China probably has enough troops to maintain order, but keeping these troops and the displaced persons under their care supplied would severely tax China’s logistical capacities. If China tried to pull this off today, it would need as many C130s as the West can spare. China would also need neighboring nations to refrain from supplying arms to the various North Korean factions. Even if neighboring governments prefer to remain neutral, private groups could still provide crucial support to factions fighting Chinese troops. Korean Christian groups in South Korea and the United States could be a real thorn in China’s side. Getting the US and South Korea to limit these groups’ activities to humanitarian assistance would be a major diplomatic objective for the Chinese. The biggest challenge would be neutralizing North Korea’s nuclear arsenal. The Chinese do not have enough anti-ballistic missile defense systems, so China would need the help of the US Navy and the JMSDF to truly feel safe. Access to US signals and satellite intelligence would also be critical in helping Chinese special forces track down and eliminate North Korean nuclear weapons. Finally, China will need North Korea’s neighbors to recognize and trade with the new regime that China installs if the new government is going to have any real long-term stability.
This game simulates China’s efforts to accomplish all of the tasks outlined above. To win, you must capture North Korea’s nuclear weapons, occupy the country and win the support of North Korea’s neighbors. These are complicated tasks, so this is a complicated game. Good luck.