The Pentagon’s latest annual report on China’s military for the first time reveals contingency plans by the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) to intervene in North Korea.
Relations between the two communist nations remain strained and last year were at the lowest level in decades.
According to the report, China fears North Korea’s provocative nuclear and missile tests will set off a regional conflict. Beijing wants stability, a denuclearized peninsula and no U.S. forces near its borders.
“China’s priority is maintaining stability on the Korean peninsula, which includes preventing a [North Korean] collapse and preventing a military conflict on the peninsula,” the report said.
China’s government has issued strident statements regarding North Korea, including suggestions the PLA will be used to respond to a Korean crisis.
The response could include options ranging from “securing the China-North Korea border to prevent the flow of refugees, to a military intervention into North Korea.”
Beijing also could use a 1961 defense agreement with Pyongyang as a justification for an invasion, but the report said China’s willingness to intervene to defend the regime of North Korean leader Kim Jong-un is unclear.
If China does attack North Korea, forces from the Northern Theater, formerly the Shenyang military region, would be deployed.
Three group armies in the China’s Northern Theater contain about 170,000 troops, a naval fleet, two air force bases, one air support division, two naval aviation divisions, and People’s Armed Police (PAP) units that are used to conduct border defense operations. Other forces would be called on from other Chinese theaters to support an invasion.
“In response to a chemical, biological, radiological or nuclear incident on the Korean peninsula, the PLA could deploy emergency-response units with specialized equipment and personnel who routinely train for rapid responses,” the report said.
The PLA since 2004 has been increasing its ability to conduct joint operations near North Korea with an emphasis on border defense.
“More recent training has sought to improve the Northern Theater’s civil-military fusion, night training and transport of PLA units across the Bohai [Sea] from the Shandong Peninsula to the Liaoning Peninsula.”
China also has been coordinating with Russia on North Korea since 2015. Eight consultations on regional security were held.
Chinese plans to invade North Korea highlight two imperatives for Washington, said China expert Rick Fisher.
“First, there is now a crisis-level requirement for the United States to deploy a force of hundreds of tactical nuclear weapons with its Asian forces, to deter China from exploiting any Korean Peninsula conflict to also invade Taiwan,” said Mr. Fisher, senior fellow with the International Assessment and Strategy Center.
“Second, it is imperative that Washington make public the full extent of China’s assistance to North Korea’s missile and nuclear programs, to at a minimum embarrass Beijing into taking back that assistance, especially the sophisticated 16- and 18-wheel missile trucks that make it possible for Pyongyang to achieve surprise nuclear strikes against U.S. cities,” he said.
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Full article: China set for North Korea invasion (The Washington Times)