Chinese military forces in North Korea?

Chinese troops have been sent to North Korea's Special Economic Zone of Rajin-Sonbong, near the Chinese border, according to reports in the South Korean media. "At midnight on Dec. 15, 2010, more than 50 Chinese armored vehicles and tanks entered North Korea's Hoeryong crossing the Tumen River (Duman River) from China's Sanhe, and residents of Sanhe were awakened by the roar of the armored vehicles," the newspaper Chosun Ilbo reported.

If true, this would mark the first time Chinese forces have been stationed in North Korea since the People's Liberation Army withdrew from the Military Armistice Commission in the truce village of Panmunjom in December 1994. South Korean officials speculated as to the size of the PLA force, and whether it was there to defend the North in the event of war, to protect the Special Economic Zone, or to check a potential flood of refugees across the border into China.

The Democratic People's Republic of Korea (DPRK) and China have conducted numerous high-level military exchanges since two visits to China by North Korean leader Kim Jong-il last year. Guo Boxiong, the top Chinese military officer and vice chairman of the Chinese Central Military Commission, visited the DPRK in October, meeting with leader Kim Jong-il and his son and heir Kim Jong-un. In the meeting, the elder Kim emphasized the "blood ties" between the two nations. (Epoch Times, Jan. 20; Chosun Ilbo, Jan. 17)

China plans a $2 billion investment in the Rajin-Sonbong (Rason) zone this year, but it should be noted that the People's Republic projects a similar level of investment in South Korea. Beijing's total foreign investment last year was estimated at $200 billion. (WSJ, Jan. 19; Yonhap News Agency, Aug. 30, 2010)

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