[KS] NK refugees to China

Ruediger Frank rfrank at koreanstudies.de
Mon Apr 5 05:38:59 EDT 2004

Dear list members,

>On Mar 31, 2004, at 9:38 PM, ken.kaliher at us.army.mil wrote:
>>   Anthony Faiola's thorough January 22 report in the Washington Post 
>> ("Kicking Up the Dust of History") suggested one possible reason for 
>> China's Koguryo claims which seems very far from "silly."  Faiola wrote:
>>    "...More is at stake than bragging rights to the extraordinary bronze 
>> and clay Buddhas and frescoed murals of a long-dead 
>> civilization.  Koguryo encompassed a vast area from central Manchuria to 
>> south of Seoul.  Korean academics and politicians accuse China  of 
>> attempting to lay claim to the kingdom out of fear that its 
>> 870-mile-long border with North Korea will rupture with a flood of 
>> refugees if the government in Pyongyang collapses.

This is just one such quote out of many in the last months, and they 
usually pass by undisputed. But why on earth does everybody seem to assume 
that NKs would run up NORTH - where they are not quite welcome - in case of 
a collapse? This makes sense as long as the border to the South is closed 
and as long as the NK navy can prevent travel to Japan. But both will not 
be the case anymore after a collapse. There certainly will be a number of 
people, mostly from the regions close to China, who actually decide to go 
there to escape the political and economic chaos. However, I suggest they 
will number thousands, not millions.
Assuming rationality, shouldn't we expect that NKs rather flee to a place 
where their language is spoken AND where, for emotional and political 
reasons, wealth waits to be shared - which is South or even East? The 
majority of those East Germans who decided to leave did not escape to 
Denmark or Austria, although in both countries their language is spoken as 
a second or a first language; neither did they chose these neighboring 
countries when the wall was still there, nor after it came down.
My impression is that the PRC is deliberately utilizing this scenario to 
imply that it has some real reservations against a collapse. Although this 
might be true, I refuse to buy the "millions of refugees" argument, and am 
wondering whether anybody on the list cound convince me of the opposite.

As for the reason why China is so determined about its claims vis-a-vis 
Goguryeo, I think the simple answers are not always the worst ones. After a 
Korean unification of any kind, isn't is reasonable to expect that the 2 
million Joseonjeok, not without external support, will demand more autonomy 
from Beijing and eventually a political union with unified Korea? Given the 
structure of the PRC, this would clearly send dangerous signals to many 
other ethnic minorities, the Tibetans and Uighurs being only the tip of the 
iceberg. The Chinese behavior in the Goguryeo issue is nothing to feel 
sympathy for as a Koreanist, but perfectly reasonable - from the Chinese 
perspective, of course.



Dr. Ruediger Frank
- Visiting Professor -
University of Vienna
Institute for East Asian Studies
Spitalgasse 2-4
A-1090 Vienna

Phone:  +43-1-4277 438 22
Fax:            +43-1-4277 9438
email:          rfrank at koreanstudies.de
web:            http://www.koreanstudies.de/frank.htm

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