China’s military could be making plans to invade North Korea with the People’s Liberation Army, according to the latest annual report from the Pentagon.
Last year, the strained relationship between the two communist countries reached a decades-long low point.
As a result, China is considering a military intervention and has issued statements regarding the use of the PLA in responding to a crisis in North Korea.
China is worried that North Korea’s nuclear and missile tests will provoke a conflict on the peninsula that would involve U.S. forces being stationed near the Chinese border — something the communist country is desperately looking to avoid.
“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, according to the Washington Times.
While China wants to ensure stability, it is unclear at this point what the effort to do so might look like.
China could engage in actions ranging anywhere from “securing the China-North Korea border to prevent the flow of refugees, to a military intervention into North Korea.”
If they were to invade North Korea, China would deploy troops from its Northern Theater, formerly known as the Shenyang military region.
“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 units that are used to conduct border defense operations,” the Washington Times said.
The Pentagon report highlighted the speed with which the People’s Liberation Army could respond to an incident in North Korea.
“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 Pentagon report said.
Since 2015, China has also consulted with Russia eight times on the subject of North Korea and regional security.
Rick Fisher is a senior fellow at the International Assessment and Strategy and an expert on China. He told the Washington Times that the possibility of a Chinese invasion of North Korea requires a significant response from the U.S. military.
“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,” Fisher said.
“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,” Fisher added.
It remains to be seen what effects a Chinese invasion of North Korea might have for relations between the U.S. and China.
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