There are reports from both Asian media and European sources of a significant Chinese military mobilization on the border with North Korea. We have not been able to confirm these reports. Still, we think it is important to bring them to your attention. The combination of their potential significance and the fact that they come from multiple sources, albeit unconfirmed, makes this development worthy of a brief alert.
The first report comes from Sankei Shimbun, a daily paper with one of the largest circulations in Japan. On April 9, the paper reported the movement of People’s Liberation Army (PLA) personnel toward the Yalu River, saying it was partly related to China’s reaction to U.S. missile strikes in Syria last Thursday. On Monday, a report appeared on Chosun.com, a subsidiary of Chosun Ilbo, one of South Korea’s main newspapers. This report said that 150,000 PLA personnel had been deployed and identified them as parts of the PLA’s 16th, 23rd, 39th and 40th Group Armies. Geopolitical Futures has received similar reports from European sources. The content of these reports is consistent, but so is their lack of substantiation at this juncture.
North Korean soldiers stand on a boat on the Yalu River in the North Korean town of Sinuiju, as seen from across the river from the Chinese border town of Dandong, on Feb. 9, 2016. JOHANNES EISELE/AFP/Getty Images
These reports come the week after U.S. President Donald Trump and Chinese President Xi Jinping held their meeting in Mar-a-Lago in Florida. GPF wrote at the time that North Korea had superseded trade as the major issue between the two countries, and speculated that Xi would attempt to move the conversation away from Chinese trade concessions to the United States toward a more proactive stance in managing the North Korea situation. We know the U.S. has dispatched a carrier battle group toward the Korean Peninsula, and we now have these unconfirmed reports about Chinese military movements.
At first blush, these reports could make sense in the context of our model, another reason we have chosen to alert our readers. If true, it would mean that the U.S. and China have reached some sort of understanding about how to approach the North Korean issue. It is, however, just as possible at this point that these are leaks designed to shape public perception of the situation or for some other purpose. GPF will continue to monitor this situation closely and will share any information and analysis with our readers as soon as we have it. In the meantime, we are watching.