As the potential for another nuclear test looms in North Korea, and President Trump continues to blast the Kim regime with weaponized Twitter bravado, pressure on Beijing is mounting. China is well aware, as the only grownup in this equation, that it is up to them to prevent catastrophe on their northeastern border.
While this escalation of tensions echoes countless moments of provocation and brinksmanship in the history of a divided Korea, it doesn’t just feel different this time – it really is. There has been an unsettling shift in the calculus of all parties involved.
No, China doesn’t have North Korea’s back
On Saturday, Chinese state-run news outlet Global Times published an opinion piece outlining China’s limited options for preventing war on the Korean peninsula. Shockingly, the Chinese communist party mouthpiece, known for its harsh criticism of the US, argued that China: 1) should drastically limit oil supply to their northeastern ally if they conduct another nuclear test, and 2) should NOT respond militarily in the event that the US carries out a surgical strike on North Korean nuclear facilities.
Before we explore what has brought us to this moment, let us pause and reflect on that point. Officially, Beijing is an ally of North Korea. A Chinese state media outlet, known for its hawkish stance toward US foreign policy, argues that China should not intervene on North Korea’s behalf should the US carry out a military strike on the Kim regime. That should be mind-blowing, but if we look at what has happened to the China-North Korea relationship over the past several years, it becomes clear why China is willing to align itself with the US and South Korea on the North Korea issue.
China’s hopes dashed
It is safe to say that Chinese President Xi Jinping and North Korea’s youthful leader Kim Jong-un got off on the wrong foot when they took power, one shortly after the other. Relations between the two countries were amicable with former president Hu Jintao at the helm of China, while Kim Jong-un’s father, Kim Jong-il, was still in charge of North Korea. After the former supreme leader’s death in 2011, however, things went south, figuratively and literally.
Kim Jong-un’s assumption of power was a moment of great uncertainty on the Korean Peninsula, but it also represented an opportunity for positive change. Some saw Kim’s uncle, Jang Song-thaek, who had helped mentor the young leader during his transition to power, as the key to closer relations with Beijing and economic reform in China’s image. Jang had been involved in the establishment of a joint economic zone set up with China and was seen as a figure with close ties to Beijing.
Those hopes were dashed quickly. Following a North Korean rocket launch in April 2012, Beijing uncharacteristically – for the time – backed a UN Security Council statement condemning the launch, which many speculate China had warned against through private channels. Soon after, China memorably ignored Kim Jong-un’s request to visit Beijing during the handover of power to Xi Jinping that same year.
And then came a dramatic blow to Beijing’s hopes of progress for the desolate kingdom of Kim.
The last man seen as a glimmer of hope for North Korean economic reform, the aforementioned uncle, Jang Song-thaek, was executed by his nephew. His alleged crimes included committing “irregularities” related to the joint economic zone set up with China and taking control of “major economic fields of the country,” according to North Korean state media.
Pivot to South Korea
Perhaps the most significant moment in Beijing’s turn away from Pyongyang came when Xi Jinping visited Seoul in the summer of 2014. The move, which broke a long-standing tradition of Chinese leaders visiting their ally to the north first, marked a seismic shift in Northeast Asian regional politics. It garnered significant positive media attention in China, and fed a narrative, which first grew out of then-South Korean President Park Geun-hye’s earlier visit to Beijing, that a new friendship had bloomed between the two countries.
China was determined to diminish US influence in the region and the visit sparked concern in Washington and Tokyo that Beijing was succeeding. The love affair between Xi Jinping and Park Geun-hye didn’t last, as we saw most recently with the row over South Korea’s deployment of the THAAD missile defense system. But many in Beijing still see stronger relations with South Korea, at the expense of relations with the north, as being in China’s strategic interest.
The volatile compound of Kim and Trump
Three years later, with a new US president in power, China is in a sticky situation. The current administration in Washington is less predictable than any in recent memory. That is even true for analysts in Washington – just imagine the head scratching that is going on in Beijing every time Trump posts a new thought to Twitter.
The young leader in North Korea is as boxed in strategically as he ever was. The nuclear program has been presented to the North Korean public as the crowning achievement of the Kim regime. How could he abandon part of his claim to legitimacy as a successful leader?
China does not want the US to conduct a surgical strike on North Korean nuclear facilities. In fact, by all accounts, no one at the Pentagon would risk that either. Washington and Beijing are in agreement that further advancement of North Korea’s nuclear program needs to stop. China, if the Global Times is any reflection of the mood in Beijing, is also willing to go further than it ever has before by limiting oil supplies to North Korea should they conduct another nuclear test.
Chinese leaders will hope to stop short of threatening the ultimate collapse of the Kim regime. The question is – how far is too far?
do it the other way…pressure the us,and dprk…too cool things..then begin..opening lines with seoul and pyongyang…
Cooling things will not do much good, North Korea is determined to go ahead with its program by hook or crook, and USA under no circumstance will allow North Korea to posses weapons which threaten America’s safety. If North Korea is given more time, it will develop the necessary weapons it needs to attack USA. So in my opinion it is now or never,Trump should strike and stop this lunatic regime.
Don’t blame the Americans for standing up to this idiot in North Korea?? Waving his nuclear arsenal at the world and do your homework on previous wars ex..911….they brought the war to our shores..the cowards..and for the gulf war look back to the early 80s when UK confiscated two 100 yard sections of honed out pipeline destined for Iraq?? Do your homework before you start flapping your gate…
If people think Dump will limit himself to aggression against North Korea, think again. Being as loony as Kim Jong Un makes his recklessness a symptom of a much larger problem; Dump’s growing Messiah complex, with a hint of Gotterdamerung thrown in for added spice. Sooner or later he will go after China too, nukes be damned.
South China Sea is full of lurking submarines from Japan, South Korea, North Korea, Indonesia, Vietnam, India, Australia, China, Russia, etc. If the Carl Vinson carrier is sunk, who know whodunit?
Fred Knapton You mean that is all right to amass a large 400,000 invading army and naval flotilas right on North Korea’s borders and North Korea should just stop defending itself. Maybe you should close your clap before flies enter.
The problem for the USA is that certain countries like Russia, China and North Korea have their missiles directed not on Japan, South Korea or the American aircraft carrier but on Washington, New York and Boston. Should the Americans attack either North Korea or China on the South China Sea, the first strikes of Russia, China and North Korea will be on these three American cities.
The change in stance from the Chinese autocrats regarding NK is probably due to growing financial synergies with US / SK interests IMHO. The big unknown is Russia´s role in all of this warmongering. They of course have their Pacific Fleet based in Vladivostok, a city of 600,000 people only 20 km north of the NK border, and very close to the missile launch sites there. I really cannot see them tolerating strikes on fissile material so close to their assets. Characteristically, they are silent on the matter, but it seems to me they MUST act if required. Interesting times we live in.
China and Russia both are capiitalistic regimes and superpowers who get used to make deals with the other superpower, the USA. But the bills are to be paid by the non-uperpowers, such as Syria and North Korea.
Forget the UN, forget "International Law". This is all gone. If International Law would rule, Trump already would have been put into jail for war-crimes, crimes against humanity and aggressions against souvereign member states of the UN. The fact that the fascist POTUS is able to debate such crimes and commit them without any reaction, without any risk to be held accountable, is a proof of my thesis and should open the eyes of the people who are NO longer willing to be just pawns in a vile game of politicians who do not care for their people but for the profits of globalist corporations and the Rosthschild banks. If China leaves the DPRK and does not respond properly to an US aggression, the next aggression will be on China. If Beijing is that stupid as to ignore who are the true targets (Russia and China), well then they do deserve their ends. I stand with North Korea, as I stand with Yemen, Syria, Iraq, Libya, Somalia, Sudan and all other victims of our dreadful genocidal western imperialism. And now, if you think you are obliged to, you may bash me, calling me naive. Better being naive than being a monster.
If so, China probably learns to grow up and out. It does not matter how hard "you would try to help some people, they may never grow up but would also drag you down to the dirt with them!" An old saying.
Noth Korea is an outcast of the world ,which should be no surprise. China donot want get her "teet in the ringer", otherwise there are tremendeous consequences for China. North korea is left on cold by itself. The continuing intimidation by both North Korea and also China on smaller nations must stop or face the consequences. Claiming south China seas as its chinease Lake can become "Yellowman’s peril" with consquences.
Michael Chan and wang: Your logic is so screwed up! It is not funny. Chinese economy that gave you clothes to wear would demolish against the world’s Greatest power. We sympathize with you that the Japanese screwed you but you are screwing Tibetans, hongkong, Taiwanese and Turkish mongols their rights. They are not Han chinese. So, Look your self in the mirror first. Those who live in glass house don’t dare to throw stones at others. These huge strike force with nukes will demolish your country. Donot underestimate Japan, they will throw big punch at you and screw you again.
You spoke as if Russia is on China’s side. Do yourself a favor and study a bit of history to find out which country actually threatened total nuclear annihilation, and who helped to stop that.
Ken Nguyen. Perhaps you should learn from the real history and not the communist version, to realize that it was North Korea that invaded South Korea in the first place. It’s hardly a defense posture when N. Korea has twice the amount of troops massing at the border with 10,000 plus artillery pieces aiming at S. Korea.
Mark my words———this is all FAKE NEWS so certain countries can ring the register. The weapon business is big big business with lots of profit——-nobody wants to upset the apple cart and I mean NOBODY!!!
It has never been whether China will intervene but whether South Korea will allow a strike on the North. Only losers will be the Koreans. Both sides will be flattened before another armistice will be called.
"China, if the Global Times is any reflection of the mood in Beijing, is also willing to go further than it ever has before by limiting oil supplies to North Korea should they conduct another nuclear test."
It’s not clear that this would be going further than they ever have. Several sources state that Beijing cut back oil supplies following provocations in both 2003 and 2006, although this was never confirmed by the Chinese government.
The longer this confrontation drags on the more convinced I become that this is basically the normal US/SK war games scenario playing out, timed as usual to maximise disruption of the NK rice sowing season. No-one is going to attack NK, who can lob missiles into Beijing, Tokyo and Vladivostok, not to mention obliterating Seoul.
Do you know that a carrier strike group has cruisers, destroyers, light airborne systems and attack submarines in the group? It has a sophisticated defence for air, sea and underwater attacks. (It has been suggested that nothing short of a direct nuke strike can sink a carrier group. In turn, it would launch its nuclear arsenal in a ‘use-it-or-lose-it’ doomsday scenario once it detects a nuke launch heading its way.) You can count with two fingers the number of hostile nations with the capability to sink a US CSG. The result would be WW3 not a whodunnit mystery case.
Canada doesn’t need the states. We already burned down the white house once.
Jeremy Villanueva Actually numerous submarines of many nations have penetrated the defensive layers of escorting ships and got into position to torpedo the carrier.
Now is the best time. Sanctions have failed every step of the way and North Korea only gets more developed with each test. Destroy their nuclear capabilities and threaten them with a regime change if they retaliate against the south or Japan.
Mike Marriott unfortunately we are reliant on America for our protection. Successive governments have cut defence spending and under Trudeau its gotten worse than ever.
I totally agree. Something needs to be done soon. He’s a lunatic with dangerous toys. He needs to be taken out before he does something stupid.
Lol, they would definately respond.
Lol, Hardy Campbell, you’re a ridiculous clown. There would be no gains in attacking China. Nobody wants to fight China. China is a military powerhouse. Dump your Trump fantasies retard. He’s doing exactly what he should be doing. Something that should’ve been done years ago. Except spineless dog turd Obama was in charge, and was too busy financing radical terrorism.
I agree with you Alle, in fact the NK regime has offered 3 years in a row to halt their nuclear weapons program in return for the US/SK halting thier annual war games. The US government rejected these offers. See:
So the idiots who advocate spread of nuclear arms want every Taliban chief, every radical imam and every drug lord to have a couple nukes to blackmail the world. And this we pass to our children? Better to die fighting this. Go Trump !! F-k you
Brian Young North Korean subs are so old and noisy. The Japanese Soryu subs would sink those Norks before they knew what hit them.
Fred Knapton you are kinda Idiot. First of all is their right to have nuclear weapons. As us and the big country has them …the same for small ones who need to defend themselves. And second nobody brought the war to your shores they just respond back in a different way. But then you fcking ignorants believe is everything about usa.
You are another idiot and clown THAAD system will take down any missile of the air. They never make it anywhere except in the ocean. After that get ready to get ours from submarines that you can never stop.
First of all a nuclear device 100 miles away will cause huge psunami waves that could sink a mile tall mountain.
Secondly, a US warship with nukes is not able to differentiate missiles with nuclear warheads, so, when north korea attacks it might do so in a massive missile barrge with just one being armed with nukes. So how do you think your yankee geneouses would prevent such an attack which by the way is a very likely scenatio.
Bipin Shah, I think you put too much failth on those THHADs it’s like shotting a bullet with another bullet. I also thnik that some hot headed idiots in Washington and elsewhere put too much failth on American weapons of mass destruction over blown capabilities, mini nukes, etc…and believe a limited nuuclear war is winnable. I would’t wait around to see who wins because in a situation like that, we will all be loosers.
Yes indeed, i have read that the THHAD missile system is actually placed there to spy on China using North Korean nukes as a cover.
India much better off aligning herself with Russia and China, so stop the bull shit about south china sea. BTW have you read about the silk road China and Russia are helping to complete soon. That is where the money is my friend, Pakistan has embraced it to their credit and India better get smart or lose out big time.
No Sir. not at all America used to have many more thinking people like yourself but something went haywire after the 1960’s.
Brian Young Just google it. American carrier battle groups are not invincible.
Jeremy Villanueva Your info is outdated. I quote Pentagon reports.
Bipin Shah It appears that you are the idiot here. Hot air and bluster will not win a war and if THAAD is so great why worry like a yellow chicken if NK has a few ICBMs.
Scott Bentley Why resort to vulgarity, chickenshit!
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