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VirginFlyer
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North Korean Aeronautical Capabilities?

Tue Jun 02, 2009 5:18 pm

While writing a thread about possible future producers of airliners (http://www.airliners.net/discussions/general_aviation/read.main/4426304/ ), I considered the possibility of North Korea developing an aircraft of their own. We know North Korea has developed an atomic bomb, and missile technology, so I'd assume there must be some degree of aerospace know-how in the country, even if the source is reverse engineering.

Looking at the make up of North Korea's Air Force on Wikipedia (that paragon of factuality), it would appear to be predominantly made up of obsolete Soviet types, with a comparative handful of newer generation MiG-29s and Su-25s. I'm wondering to what extent North Korea has the capability to develop and build its own aircraft, either indigenously or reverse engineered? For that matter, how capable are they of even maintaining their aging fleet? I realise all things out of North Korea are a bit fuzzy, but I'm hoping there might be some idea of what the state of things is.

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jwenting
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RE: North Korean Aeronautical Capabilities?

Wed Jun 03, 2009 12:24 pm

DPRK relies heavily on Chinese assistance when it comes to maintaining their fleet, though they may have some limited capability to fabricate spare parts.

That's about the same for their entire country.

Their missile technology is largely Iranian and Chinese, with some indigenous components.
Their nuclear technology seems to come mainly from Pakistan (same guy who stole it for them is rumoured to have since betrayed his own country and sold it to the DPRKs).

Missiles are of course relatively simple machines, and the complex parts can be bought on the world's markets (especially from China and the (former) USSR).
With Iran assisting (and the two are apparently working closely together, their new systems are extremely similar) the DPRKs would have access to a pretty large cadre of Soviet and British trained engineers from Iran, as well as Iranian funding and Iranian access to the buying power of most of the Muslim world through Iran's secret service.
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GDB
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RE: North Korean Aeronautical Capabilities?

Wed Jun 03, 2009 6:49 pm

In 1976 they did start license produce of the (already outdated) Mig-21 bis .
Which probably meant largely assembling from kits.

The 'Juche' (self reliance) policy of the last several decades, which has played a part in North Korea's impoverished state, would imply a high level of industrial military capabilities.
What it actually means most likely, is that this has also led to severe technological stagnation, as it has in every other part of their industrial economy and agriculture too.

Basically their AF is a smattering of later Soviet types, like Mig-29 (though without the series of avionic/weapon upgrades available elsewhere), but mostly it will more resemble a Eastern Bloc cold war museum.

Likely a Soviet style air defence system is in place too, probably like Iraq's - in 1991.
We know how well that worked!

What might be more worrisome would be if they had taken elements of the (huge) ground forces special forces, and applied it to elements in the AF.
It's reported that some DPRK SF units are essentially suicide squads, in the sort of missions they would perform in a war.
Could they have applied this to some fighter jet units?

Another example of the asymmetric capabilities was how in the 1980's they managed to buy through subterfuge a load of civil Hughes 500 helicopters, (Iraq did the same).
South Korea operates a large fleet of military Hughes 500's, the obvious implication being an ability to cause havoc inside South Korea.

In a war involving the US, it was likely that in a conventional sense the North Korean AF would play a minor part, since their bases (though likely very hardened and with a lot of dispersal), would be hit hard.
Those that got airborne would equally likely not last long, like Iraq's in 1991.

But the real trump card DPRK holds is of a rather older technology.
Artillery, 1000's of pieces, many in range of Seoul and other major South Korean targets.
Which could take days to significantly neutralize, after 1000's and 1000's of shells would have been firing in that period.

Then there is the prospect of a major, dirty, close up slugfest on the ground.
The US/South Korea would win, but likely at a very high cost to both as well as all the other political, military, economic implications a war would bring.

(Why do you think that virtually defenseless Iraq which was thought to have limited WMD's, but North Korea-which has likely had chemical/biological weapons for years and as we've seen far more advanced in the nuclear field than either Iran or Iraq, was not attacked?)
 
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RE: North Korean Aeronautical Capabilities?

Wed Jun 03, 2009 9:16 pm



Quoting GDB (Reply 2):
(Why do you think that virtually defenseless Iraq which was thought to have limited WMD's, but North Korea-which has likely had chemical/biological weapons for years and as we've seen far more advanced in the nuclear field than either Iran or Iraq, was not attacked?)

This may sound like a very simplistic answer but I think it's pretty accurate in the end: oil.

Thanks for this North Korea military review, I didn't know about the MiG-21bis manufacture (attempt).

Peter Smile
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jwenting
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RE: North Korean Aeronautical Capabilities?

Thu Jun 04, 2009 5:42 am



Quoting GDB (Reply 2):
In a war involving the US, it was likely that in a conventional sense the North Korean AF would play a minor part, since their bases (though likely very hardened and with a lot of dispersal), would be hit hard.
Those that got airborne would equally likely not last long, like Iraq's in 1991.

At least some of those bases are rumoured to be built completely inside mountains.
Blast doors open to allow aircraft to take off and land, doors thick enough to withstand anything short of a direct hit by a very large bomb.
Maybe that's what the shipment of GBU-28s sold to the ROK is meant to take out, but those won't be online in the ROK inventory for another 5 years (deliveries won't be complete before 2014, production rate in the US is extremely low).

Never underestimate numbers when fighting a war. If the DPRKs can swamp the ROK and US air forces with numbers high enough that they can't take them all out before it evolves into a dogfight, those MiG-17s and MiG-21s stand a fighting chance against the far smaller numbers of F-15s and F-16s.
That'll have to be the DPRK AF's strategy, put up a massively large number of aircraft and simply absorb the losses before using the remaining numbers to take down the precious few enemy aircraft.
It worked for the Americans in WW2 when fighting the Germans, it kinda worked for the Japanese when employing their kamikaze against the US fleet (they simply came so often that gunners couldn't shoot them down quickly enough and some were bound to slip through).

Not quite sure, but it wouldn't surprise me if in case of a war with the US the DPRKs can once again rely on the near unlimited manpower of the PRC as well. That would give them thousands more of those MiGs and pilots, as well as thousends more tanks and millions more troops.
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QFMel
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RE: North Korean Aeronautical Capabilities?

Thu Jun 04, 2009 6:31 am



Quoting GDB (Reply 2):
The 'Juche' (self reliance) policy of the last several decades, which has played a part in North Korea's impoverished state, would imply a high level of industrial military capabilities.
What it actually means most likely, is that this has also led to severe technological stagnation, as it has in every other part of their industrial economy and agriculture too.

Not renowned for its high-end production of elaborately transformed manufactures.

Quoting GDB (Reply 2):

Likely a Soviet style air defence system is in place too, probably like Iraq's - in 1991.

Agree with the bulk of what you wrote, very thorough, but I think this is where I'd differ with you- the fact that North Korea was not pursued when first touted as a member of the 'Axis of Evil' could have meant inter alia that, as with Iran, there existed significant concerns as to their air defences.

Even in the event that it's not as sophisticated as it could be, as you pointed out regarding artillery pieces, the DPRK is very good with quantity, and such a capability in depth dwarfing that of Iraq's erstwhile capability. A wide spread of SA-10s would make for a bad day.

If they managed to get their hands on some SA-21s (this would only happen were end users to on-sell, something that Russia would be unlikely to countenance), that would make for an altogether worse day. It's one thing for China to acquire/license and produce for export to Pakistan, quite another for everyone's least favourite regime to get a hold of it.

Quoting Jwenting (Reply 1):
Their nuclear technology seems to come mainly from Pakistan (same guy who stole it for them is rumoured to have since betrayed his own country and sold it to the DPRKs).

Not just the nuclear technology, it's also a staging point for missile technology from Iran, not merely conceptually as stated above.

Quoting Jwenting (Reply 4):
If the DPRKs can swamp the ROK and US air forces with numbers high enough that they can't take them all out before it evolves into a dogfight, those MiG-17s and MiG-21s stand a fighting chance against the far smaller numbers of F-15s and F-16s.

That would require a perfect storm, bearing in mind that those smaller numbers of F-15s and F-16s are better armed, readily supplemented from within the region, and if a conflict were forseeable call on AWACS to co-ordinate their ops. The attrition rate would be painfully high for the DPRK- the situation you're describing requires a very big 'if'.
 
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RE: North Korean Aeronautical Capabilities?

Thu Jun 04, 2009 8:13 am



Quoting Jwenting (Reply 4):
Never underestimate numbers when fighting a war. If the DPRKs can swamp the ROK and US air forces with numbers high enough that they can't take them all out before it evolves into a dogfight, those MiG-17s and MiG-21s stand a fighting chance against the far smaller numbers of F-15s and F-16s.

I would disagree here.....Assuming that the US/ROK have exhausted their radar guided and IR/heat seeking missiles in a given engagement, I would say that the superior training and equipment of the 'allies' would more than make up for a numerical disadvantage against a fleet of 2nd or 3rd generation fighters flown by marginal pilots. I'm not questioning the bravery or dedication of the DPRK pilots, but their lack of advanced training, modern equipment, and AEW support would put them at a disadvantage before the first shot is even fired. YMMV.
 
Acheron
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RE: North Korean Aeronautical Capabilities?

Thu Jun 04, 2009 7:58 pm



Quoting QFMel (Reply 5):
A wide spread of SA-10s would make for a bad day.

I doubt North Korea can afford any decent variant of the S300. If anything, retired S300V which is not as good as the PMU-2 variants.
 
LMP737
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RE: North Korean Aeronautical Capabilities?

Thu Jun 04, 2009 9:26 pm



Quoting Jwenting (Reply 4):
Never underestimate numbers when fighting a war. If the DPRKs can swamp the ROK and US air forces with numbers high enough that they can't take them all out before it evolves into a dogfight, those MiG-17s and MiG-21s stand a fighting chance against the far smaller numbers of F-15s and F-16s.
That'll have to be the DPRK AF's strategy, put up a massively large number of aircraft and simply absorb the losses before using the remaining numbers to take down the precious few enemy aircraft.
It worked for the Americans in WW2 when fighting the Germans, it kinda worked for the Japanese when employing their kamikaze against the US fleet (they simply came so often that gunners couldn't shoot them down quickly enough and some were bound to slip through).

I can see the reasoning behind the comparison. There are important some differences.

US aircraft were evenly matched against German aircraft, except for the ME-262. As the war progressed against Japan US aircraft became increasingly superior. Then there are the aircrews manning the aircraft. German and Japanese aircrews were fighting for the entire duration of the war. That meant a lot of your expiries aircrews ended up being killed. The US on the other hand rotated their pilots to training commands. There they could pass on their knowledge to student pilots. The quality of US pilots went up during the war, the opposite happened to the Germans and the Japanese.

Along with the obsolescence of their equipment you have to wonder about the quality of their pilots. Due to fuel shortages North Korean pilots get only a fraction of the hours South Korean and American pilots get. The MIG-29 and MIG-23 units get more allotted hours but still below that of their potential adversaries. So what you would have is a North Korean pilot in a MIG-19 going up against a South Korean with four times the number of hours flying in an F-16.
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LMP737
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RE: North Korean Aeronautical Capabilities?

Thu Jun 04, 2009 9:29 pm



Quoting QFMel (Reply 5):
Agree with the bulk of what you wrote, very thorough, but I think this is where I'd differ with you- the fact that North Korea was not pursued when first touted as a member of the 'Axis of Evil' could have meant inter alia that, as with Iran, there existed significant concerns as to their air defences.

It probably had more to do with the fact that South Korea would have rejected any plan to attack the north.
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Flighty
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RE: North Korean Aeronautical Capabilities?

Thu Jun 04, 2009 11:51 pm

I still think that if the time came, our tech should be good enough to skate over their armaments, target their "aeronautical capabilities" at will, eliminating them quickly. I thought that was the whole point of "air superiority." Times have changed since the Korean War.

Quoting Jwenting (Reply 4):
If the DPRKs can swamp the ROK and US air forces with numbers high enough that they can't take them all out before it evolves into a dogfight, those MiG-17s and MiG-21s stand a fighting chance against the far smaller numbers of F-15s and F-16s.

Doubt that the Pentagon (and its allies) would be willing to lose an air battle -- any air battle -- against North Korea. I believe our plan involves eliminating their air force and controlling their airspace as a prerequisite to whatever comes next. It would involve a lot of bombing sorties and a total annihilation of DPRK air forces and defenses.

Quoting SASD209 (Reply 6):
but their lack of advanced training, modern equipment, and AEW support would put them at a disadvantage before the first shot is even fired.

Not just a disadvantage, the question is whether their "aeronautical" weapons stand for anything at all against us. Maybe they are utterly useless against our full spectrum of air superiority strategies and technology. I hope so. Isn't that why we developed all that stuff?

Quoting GDB (Reply 2):
Then there is the prospect of a major, dirty, close up slugfest on the ground.

We would never invade on ground. That is old school. As long as they stay inside their borders, we would have no concern what DPRK residents decide to do with themselves. As long as they don't operate heavy military machinery (which we can control by air)... let them have their fun.

As long as we make it clear that SK is defended strongly, I don't find too much else to talk about. If they try a conventional attack, we have the technology to beat them. If they try a WMD attack, of course our mission would be to stop those WMD attacks using the full range of options including sub-launched missiles that would make DPRK a region of mainly archeological interest.

Maybe a steely gaze is what is needed here... I dunno.
 
QFMel
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RE: North Korean Aeronautical Capabilities?

Fri Jun 05, 2009 4:39 am



Quoting Acheron (Reply 7):

Quoting QFMel (Reply 5):
A wide spread of SA-10s would make for a bad day.

I doubt North Korea can afford any decent variant of the S300. If anything, retired S300V which is not as good as the PMU-2 variants.

Sure, but in the past they've been able to acquire things 'in-kind', or at a substantial discount. It's not as if they're going out and haggling over the cash price of 20 Kilo class SSKs.

Quoting LMP737 (Reply 9):

Quoting QFMel (Reply 5):
Agree with the bulk of what you wrote, very thorough, but I think this is where I'd differ with you- the fact that North Korea was not pursued when first touted as a member of the 'Axis of Evil' could have meant inter alia that, as with Iran, there existed significant concerns as to their air defences.

It probably had more to do with the fact that South Korea would have rejected any plan to attack the north.

Up to a point- it was a different time, Kim Dae-jung did appear to be inclined to let 'a thousand flowers bloom'. It goes without saying that political will is essential for these things. But this downplays the broad concern that exists now as it did then in the ROK and elsewhere concerning the ability of the DPRK to deliver a WMD capability. The Sunshine policy would have faded into the night much earlier had the US, Japan and others been inclined to force the point. And even in that context, 'disagreements' did happen- the very act of calling the DPRK a component of the 'axis of evil' led to talks with the ROK being suspended. In short, while the ROK had a preference for peace that didn't preclude possible war.

Quoting Flighty (Reply 10):
I still think that if the time came, our tech should be good enough to skate over their armaments, target their "aeronautical capabilities" at will, eliminating them quickly. I thought that was the whole point of "air superiority." Times have changed since the Korean War.

These lessons were also learned in Vietnam- as demonstrated in the Gulf War and everywhere else since- dogfights reduce the comparative advantage that US and allied aircraft have. You increase their advantage to the point of no contest of course by destroying your opponent's capacity with TLAM-Cs (and Ds for airfields) and various standoff weapons. Yet another reason why a North Korean 'victory', or even a draw, is a particularly big 'if'.

Quoting Flighty (Reply 10):
If they try a WMD attack, of course our mission would be to stop those WMD attacks using the full range of options

Even in the abstract I reckon this is unlikely. The US has long held that it construes biological or chemical attacks no differently from nuclear attacks and reserves the right to respond as such. Accordingly, it would be a courageous move indeed for the DPRK to use currently weaponised biological or chemical weapons at the risk of comprehensive annihilation.

That being said, we're not dealing with the most rational regime in the world here by any measure.
 
GDB
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RE: North Korean Aeronautical Capabilities?

Fri Jun 05, 2009 5:03 pm

I'd assume that in any serious armed confrontation with DPRK, they'd attack the South.
It is their only trump card.

I'd rate the capability of DPRK AD systems as in anything, maybe a bit less effective than Iraq's in 1991.
Iraq after all had some Roland SAM's supplied by France in the 1980's, a very effective system.

They key is the centralization of the AD network common to all USSR era systems.
They failed in 1982 over Lebanon/Syria, failed in 1991 over Iraq.
Arguably failed in the USSR itself, given that in 1987 a somewhat unbalanced young German man, flew a Cessna all the way to Red Square and landed!

Knock that out, how many are in the air becomes almost irrelevant.
The US and to a large degree South Korea too, has moved on since the end of the Cold War with command and control, weapons, sensors, DPRK has not.
But if nearly 20 years ago the Iraqi AD and fighter force could be so denuded back then......

Even without any F-22's deployed in the area (but they would be), the F-15's, F-16's of the US and RoK could cope, that is prevent any DPRK air superiority, along with USN F-18's.
DPRK does not have SU-27's and their Mig-29's will still have the pretty basic weapons system of the original models.

I doubt if DPRK could mount serious, sustained strike/interdiction missions either, the aircraft are too old, too limited, would be horribly vulnerably to both US/RoK fighters and SAM's such as Patriot. Due to a lack of modern EW/SEAD capabilities.
Ageis equipped US warships could also contribute here.
The wild cards here would be if the DPRK SF forces and other unconventional means managed to seriously affect US/RoK bases and facilities, on the other hand the forces in RoK will have planned for such things, being up close and personal with the enemy for over 55 years.
 
trigged
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RE: North Korean Aeronautical Capabilities?

Fri Jun 05, 2009 5:39 pm



Quoting Ptrjong (Reply 3):


Quoting GDB (Reply 2):
(Why do you think that virtually defenseless Iraq which was thought to have limited WMD's, but North Korea-which has likely had chemical/biological weapons for years and as we've seen far more advanced in the nuclear field than either Iran or Iraq, was not attacked?)

This may sound like a very simplistic answer but I think it's pretty accurate in the end: oil.

No. In the end if we attack North Korea we will end up fighting China. When we attacked Iraq, we ended up fighting Iraq with minimal interference from Iran, Syria, and Russia. We understood that from the beginning. Iraq was a bit of a school-yard bully in the region and there were not too many tears from the neighbors about Saddam Hussein getting his rear handed to him. Had Saddam NOT invaded Kuwait in 1990, then it would be a different story.

That would not be the case in North Korea. The bulk of North Korea's military is made up of outdated Chinese equipment but in the event of war, China would be all too happy to supply them with modern state-of-the-art equipment. The war-by-proxy with China would be exponentially more costly in lives and equipment/money than a war with Iraq.
 
L-188
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RE: North Korean Aeronautical Capabilities?

Fri Jun 05, 2009 5:49 pm



Quoting Trigged (Reply 13):
No. In the end if we attack North Korea we will end up fighting China.

I am not so sure of that anymore.

China is much more economically linked to the US then it ever has been.

I don't think we are looking at the 1950's scenario where they drew a line and said if you cross it we cross the Yalu.

China also has had issued with it neighbor in the recent pass but being communist countries you don't get to hear too much about illegal NK into China and such.
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Flighty
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RE: North Korean Aeronautical Capabilities?

Fri Jun 05, 2009 7:35 pm

china clearly views NK as part of their sphere (and it is). They would give NK some weapons if only for research purposes. Clearly, china has 10 times the technology that NK has. But NK will not be unilaterally attacked. I will still argue that NK can't really attack SK either. One of my friends from the region says NK would use WMD only when it was "all over" -- in defense, which is actually a case when the USA would also use WMD to defend ourselves. It is still a struggle to see what makes NK so special. As long as they know the consequences for offensive strikes, that should end the talks.

Violence is what makes a war. When they accuse SK or the USA of "acts of war," we should politely remind them that no hostility exists, and NK would be the unprovoked aggressor in any fight. The no first strikes commitment (and its moral high ground) are terribly important. It actually makes our playbook stronger to play the peaceful one with the huge array of retaliatory weapons. NK would not want to go down like chumps. If we attack them, that is exactly what they want / expect. Then their defense becomes glorious. If we insist on nonviolence then they are chumps if they attack, and we beat them.
 
QFMel
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RE: North Korean Aeronautical Capabilities?

Sun Jun 07, 2009 6:12 am



Quoting L-188 (Reply 14):

China is much more economically linked to the US then it ever has been.

And not just to the US; fantastic article here on the nature of the economic links between the PRC and DPRK, not a perspective I've seen much of before:

http://www.theaustralian.news.com.au...y/0,28124,25565427-5013584,00.html
 
BMI727
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RE: North Korean Aeronautical Capabilities?

Sun Jun 07, 2009 7:07 am



Quoting L-188 (Reply 14):
China is much more economically linked to the US then it ever has been.

I agree. China has too much to lose.

Really, I think that we might be looking at a replay of the Gulf War. The carnage that could be unleashed on the DPRK Air Forces could rival that of the original Mig Alley in the 50s. How quickly they forget how a better trained enemy can completely dominate them.

Also, unlike the Iraqis, the North Koreans cannot simply have their air force run away.
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QFMel
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RE: North Korean Aeronautical Capabilities?

Sun Jun 07, 2009 1:29 pm



Quoting L-188 (Reply 14):

I don't think we are looking at the 1950's scenario where they drew a line and said if you cross it we cross the Yalu.

It certainly wouldn't be an automatic trigger anymore....no more 'go to war, go directly to war, if you pass DMZ, collect 2 million troops'...

Quoting Flighty (Reply 15):
But NK will not be unilaterally attacked. I will still argue that NK can't really attack SK either

Not in depth, as mentioned earlier, their attacks would concentrate on Seoul and its surrounds with artillery in force (possibly including chemical weapons- although there is a reason why such weapons have also long been stationed in ROK too). Any significant troop or vehicle movements would invite death from above.

Quoting Flighty (Reply 15):
When they accuse SK or the USA of "acts of war," we should politely remind them that no hostility exists, and NK would be the unprovoked aggressor in any fight

That's the whole point though, bluster and propaganda against 'the other', the outsider, the capitalist running dogs. The DPRK higher ups don't need to believe it, the idea is to ensure that their people do.

Quoting BMI727 (Reply 17):
How quickly they forget how a better trained enemy can completely dominate them.

Yes, although this is an adversary that is definitely posessed of WMD, in close proximity to the capital of a major Western nation, a prominent US ally in the region. Just have to hope the need to prove such dominance doesn't arise any time soon, because the variables and what ifs don't bear contemplating.
 
Thumper
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RE: North Korean Aeronautical Capabilities?

Sun Jun 07, 2009 4:25 pm

Without the U S exports and trade China's economy would collapse. Although they are alley's of DPRK if they were forced to choose they would let DPRK fall. It is no longer like the old days China is a modern economy now . They need the U S a lot more than they need the DPRK.
 
QFMel
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RE: North Korean Aeronautical Capabilities?

Sun Jun 07, 2009 5:31 pm



Quoting Thumper (Reply 19):
5 times:

Without the U S exports and trade China's economy would collapse. Although they are alley's of DPRK if they were forced to choose they would let DPRK fall. It is no longer like the old days China is a modern economy now . They need the U S a lot more than they need the DPRK.

Add Japan, ROC and ROK to that equation and you've got a huge chunk of Chinese exports and imports required to effect production (be it manufacture or assembly) of ETMs- and you also account for an enormous amount of their FDI, which becomes all the more vital in a Chinese market nominally awash with cash, but in reality with so much of that cash protecting highly inefficient state-owned enterprises, propping up non-performing businesses (and loans for that matter).

Of course they need the US a lot more than the DPRK, but they also need Japan, Taiwan and South Korea just as much, as without their involvement in the Chinese economy, PRC exports to the US and EU would be far less sophisticated and far less lucrative.

While as above I don't believe the PRC would automatically retaliate against any incursion against the DPRK, I don't think they'd completely cut them loose automatically, either.

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