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Hamish Macdonald is an NK News contributor and has previously worked at The Korea Herald and for the Australia Centre for Independent Journalism in Sydney.
The Chinese government denied on Tuesday the legitimacy of a Kyodo News report alleging that a military source leaked the details of a Chinese contingency plan for the collapse of North Korea.
The Japanese outlet said the document in question was written by members of China’s People’s Liberation Army (PLA) and included plans that established protocols for the screening of refugees and allusions to foreign hostile forces. It also allegedly included a plan to detain North Korean leaders in Chinese camps for monitoring, protection and to prevent them from making decisions counter to Chinese national interests.
Chinese foreign ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying addressed questions surrounding the documents’ existence at a regular press briefing on Tuesday.
“To my knowledge, the (Kyodo) report is groundless and with an ulterior motive,” she said. “We hope the Korean Peninsula will maintain stability and we hope North Korean people will have a stable and comfortable life.”
John Delury, a professor of Chinese history at Yonsei University in Seoul told NK News that it is highly likely that China, along with other stakeholders such as the U.S. and South Korea, would have contingency plans for a North Korean regime collapse but that he is “deeply skeptical” of the validity of the report.
“I don’t doubt the existence of such plans. The Chinese have mentioned them to me and others, at least in think tank settings, if not publicly. Indeed, it would be pretty odd if the PLA and other agencies did not have such plans, but I’m not convinced Kyodo actually saw them,” said Delury.
The Kyodo report said that North Korea was not explicitly named in the document but that the contingency document referred “our country’s northeastern neighbor,” something Delury said creates more questions that answers.
“How much of the plan did Kyodo actually see? The only quotes in marks are ‘our country’s northeast neighbor’ and ‘military power,’ you’d think if they had the actual plan they’d quote a lot more than that,” Delury said.
This is a sentiment shared by Adam Cathcart, a lecturer in Chinese history at the University of Leeds.
“Where are the documents? If they don’t actually exist or cannot be excerpted in Chinese or English, I would be skeptical, although Kyodo is a decent news agency,” Cathcart said.
Kyodo reported that the contingency document was drawn up following North Korea’s third and most recent nuclear test in February 2013. The recent claims come at a period of relative tension between China and North Korea following North Korea’s recent announcement that they intend to conduct a fourth test.
“The key fact asserted in the report is that this plan was drafted last summer. So it suggests a new approach or a ‘policy review’ under Xi Jinping. That too seems plausible. But I doubt it’s a brand new plan,” Delury said.
China has publicly stated its opposition to a further North Korean nuclear test with Qin Gang, another Foreign Ministry spokesperson, telling reporters in April that, “Peace and stability is in the immediate interests of China. We will by no means allow war or chaos to occur on our doorstep.”
Qin also reiterated China’s position on a nuclear free peninsula.
“We hope that all other parties concerned can bear in mind the larger interests and make joint efforts with China to realize denuclearization, peace and stability on the Korean Peninsula,” Qin said.
So far North Korea have not commented on the Kyodo report.
Rob York contributed to this report.
Image: Wikimedia Commons