There is an old saying: If you are not part of the solution, you are part of the problem.
Corollary: If no one wants to be part of the solution, the problem never goes away, and only gets bigger.
Apply to North Korea, it’s a 50 year old “problem” for US, and while China might be easily scapegoated for that, the real reason is always about resources and money.
First, North Korea is not Iraq. We can definitively justify the WMD’s in North Korea, but we can’t justify that North Korea has any kind of valuable oil (as in Iraq) or valuable minerals (as in Afghanistan) which might allow a military confrontation to be paid for.
Second, in fact, North Korea is an economic sink hole for any one who get too close with a “solution”. Why? Because you can’t claim you solved the North Korea problem until North Korea becomes viable economically.
Enter some real cold hard estimates that will bring out the reason more clearly: Several prominent US economists have estimated, based upon rebuilding of East Germany, that it would cost (whoever takes over North Korea), at minimum $US 5 TRILLION over 30 years to rebuild North Korea. That’s MINIMUM. The figure will likely approach $US 10 TRILLION within the next few years.
Additionally, there will be probably double the cost, to dispose any left over biological/chemical/nuclear weapons, and to rehabilitate the 1 million strong North Korean military troops. (If one does not, look to the chaos that happened to Iraq when the Baathists army was disbanded without rehabilitation).
Another cold hard estimate (not fact, but pretty close), NO ONE wants to pay for it. Not China, not Japan, not South Korea, not Russia, not even the US.
To give you a comparison for idea. It’s costing US ~$200 million per day in Afghanistan. That’s ONLY $7.3 BILLION a year, and over 30 years, would be ONLY $220 BILLION in total!
North Korea would be 25-50 TIMES that amount. Even if the estimate is off, it would still be SUBSTANTIAL.
For all the bluster and sabre rattling US, South Korea and Japan have been doing lately, NONE of these nations are prepared to flip the bill. Which only means that the sabre-rattling was only attempts in the HOPE that they can get North Korea to back down (and hopefully die off on its own slowly quietly in an embargoed corner somewhere).
South Korea is even talking publicly of “preparing for reunification”, but frankly, I don’t see much preparation other than building more fortifications (which is more like preparing to seal off North Korea).
Similarly, while China talks of supporting North Korea, in fact, China has increased its troops along the border with North Korea (which IS exactly like preparing to seal off North Korea).
There are many selfish unspoken nationalistic reasons why NO ONE is supporting a confrontation to North Korea (ie. a hard solution to bring the conflict to end one way or another).
(1) South Korea may be talking tough love on their NK brethens, but South Korean identity has diverged from North Koreans quite a bit in the last 5 decades. Among Korean immigrants in US, South Koreans often mock the North Korean refugees as more “Chinese” than Korean.
Hence, there is a significant divergence of South Korean Nationalism.
This is similar to the hesitation of some West Germans in anticipation of German unification. That is, they were simply unsure that their long separated brethens will bring any value to the unification, OR more disastrously, might even corrupt the good things they already have.
(2) Japan (at least privately) does not wish to see an unified strong Korea for many reasons. Most of all is the historical animosity between Koreans and Japanese, and still unsettled Korea Japan border issues. If an unified Korea emerges viably, it might inherit the economic might of South Korea and the militant tendencies of North Korea. And that would spell certainty that Japan will be in the bullseye.
While South Korea and Japan has significant economic ties, in recent years, South Korea has repeatedly demonstrated that it has no qualms about confronting Japan with force (it even sent its navy in a dispute over an island).
MORE significantly, for all US’s diplomacies, it could not pull South Korea and Japan together, NOT even on the NORTH Korea issue. (Note, in the last few weeks of naval exercises, US could not pull together a Tri-lateral naval exercise with South Korea and Japan, and had to settle for 2 SEPARATE naval exercises. Needless to say and obvious to many, the diplomatic cliff between South Korea and Japan is wider than the ocean that separates them).
(3) China, for similar reasons, has no wish to see a strong and unified Korea.
For one, while a unified Korea might not be a US client state, it will certainly be inclined to play the “US card”, whenever there is an issue with China.
So that prospect is not endearing China to the idea (though, China undoubtedly is more ambivalent about it than Japan is).
(4) US might want a unified Korea as a client state, but it might not see it.
A strong unified Korea will have fewer reasons to need US, and might hasten the departure of US troops and bases in Korea.
And indeed, if Korea does confront Japan head on, US will be forced to play neutral, and see its influence in these nations decline.
(5) Finally, BECAUSE all outside nations will feel uncertain about the ultimate shape of the unified Korea, all parties will attempt to influence and pull KOREA in multiple divergent directions.
Korea might fragment as Iraq into multiple local factions that are PRO-X and ANTI-Y.
Perhaps Koreans themselves feel the danger of that prospect, of an fragmentation under such huge outside influences.
(REMEMBER, Germany’s unification was relatively tame and easy, because USSR had very little influence left, and virtually all of Germany’s neighbors were close NATO partners who left Germany alone in peace to rebuild. Korea will not have such luxury.)
Korea, in fact, will be surrounded by powerful and divergent players on all sides, who all have different ideas about what Korea should be in the future.
Let’s just say, I have no doubt, no one is looking forward to that messy game.
I note that US is again very accusatory toward China regarding North Korea.
Blaming others is just attempts to shift responsibilities. Blaming China won’t make North Korea go away. It’s not even close to a real solution.
And naval exercises don’t really scare North Korea. (especially now they have nukes).
Yes, North Korea is an old bomb.
But old bombs don’t disappear, they have a nasty habit of blowing you up when you least expect them to.