China Strike North Korea?
"extraordinary" mobilization of bomber aircraft
by China's foreign ministry, giving no further
general assumption is that China is taking a
defensive position in case the US administration
of President Donald Trump follows through on its
repeated threats of carrying out pre-emptive
strikes on North Korea's nuclear facilities.
Traditionally an ally of the communist
government in Pyongyang, Beijing is widely
assumed to be protecting its junior partner
by flexing a deterrence force against the US.
China has openly urged the US to not take
unilateral military action against North Korea
over the latter's controversial nuclear program.
has been calling for a diplomatic solution
to the crisis on the Korean Peninsula, a crisis
which seems to be intensifying following a dire
warning this week from US Vice President Mike
Pence that the "sword is ready," which was met
with reciprocal threats from North Korea that it
would "reduce the US to ashes."
calls for diplomacy from China, it is also clear
that Beijing is becoming exasperated with North
Korea, known formally as the Democratic People's
Republic of Korea. China is perplexed by what it
sees as the North Korean regime of Kim Jong-Un
forming an "epicenter of instability" on its
Earlier this month, there was even an
carried by Chinese state-run media warning that
China might be forced to launch its own military
strikes on North Korea if it comes down to the
"bottom line" of preserving stability and
security in the region.
certainly has strong historic ties with North
Korea. It sided with the country during the
Korean War (1950-1953) and probably salvaged the
North from defeat by the US and its South Korean
also a vital trading partner for North Korea,
helping it to cope with decades
of Western-imposed economic sanctions.
However, the once-strategic relationship has
soured in recent years. China's President Xi
Jinping has never met North Korea's Kim Jong-Un
since the latter came to power nearly six years
ago. It is increasingly evidently, too, that
Beijing and Pyongyang are not on the same page
when it comes to the nuclear issue.
While North Korea asserts that it will never
give up its pursuit of nuclear weapons and
missile technology, Beijing has officially
repudiated this path for Pyongyang,
the international community will never accept a
nuclear-armed North Korea.
It is also
apparent that China's global strategic interests
are being hampered by its association with North
Korea, which is portrayed as a pariah state
in the Western media. One can safely assume that
China views a sound economic partnership
with the US as much more important than being
in hock to North Korea.
leader Xi Jinping appears to have developed a
close personal relationship with his American
counterpart, Donald Trump. Since their friendly
dinner at Trump's Florida beach resort earlier
this month, the two leaders have shared several
Trump administration has exerted pressure
on China to get tough on North Korea and Beijing
seems to be obliging, having recently slapped
sanctions on North Korea's coal imports and
commercial air travel.
Trump administration is reportedly offering
China concessions on trade in exchange for its
cooperation to rein in North Korea. Trump's
sudden turnaround in declaring that China is
"not a currency manipulator," in contrast
to what he had repeatedly claimed in the past,
seems to be a sign of tactical tango.
This week as news
of China's military mobilization was emerging,
Trump sounded confident. He enigmatically
"As far as North Korea is concerned, we are
in very good shape. I respect [President Xi
Jinping] very much, and I think he’s working
very hard… Some very unusual moves have been
made over the past two or three hours and I
really have confidence that the president will
try very hard."
a fair bet that, in the scale of things, China
views its future economic relationship with the
US as more crucial than past "ideological" ties
with North Korea. For China, it wants a stable
North Korea that causes Beijing no aggravation
with others. At the moment, North Korea is
acting incorrigibly in the opposite way,
from China's point of view.
also does not want a full-blown conflict
to erupt as would happen if the US were
to preemptively strike Pyongyang. In the latter
scenario, the North would retaliate by hitting
South Korea and possibly Japan, with untold
by the US could also lead to regime change
in Pyongyang, with the installation by the
American forces of a regime that is subordinate
to Washington and hostile to China. China would
henceforth lose its North Korea "buffer zone."
than waiting to respond to events, it may be
speculated that China is preparing to take the
initiative. Given the reported mobilization
of Chinese military forces and the
aforementioned threats from Beijing of launching
its own strikes on North Korea, one can envisage
in the event of a US pre-emptive strike that
decapitates the North Korean leadership, China's
forces would be ready to immediately move
across the Yalu River to fill the ensuing power
vacuum. Such a move would prevent massive
refugee dislocation into China's territory, and
it would allow Beijing to shore up a new regime
in North Korea according to its political
interests, not Washington's.
a more far-reaching scenario is that China views
the present situation as being so unstable and
prone to eventual war that it seizes the moment
by taking military action against North Korea
before the US does.
such contingencies are fraught with immense
danger as well as legal and moral hazards. But
in light of the huge strategic interests
at stake for China, the notion of an
unprecedented action based on instincts
of self-preservation is not inconceivable.
dilemma for China arises from its seeming
acceptance of the false premises put forward
by the US on dealing with the Korean Peninsula.
If the crisis is viewed narrowly, and
erroneously, as stemming solely or largely
from North Korea's recalcitrance and its desire
to develop nuclear weapons, then ultimately the
solution begged by this logic is to neutralize
But such a
narrative is flawed. North Korea and its nuclear
weapons are not the primary problem. They are
but symptomatic of the underlying cause of US
aggression. As former US State Department
official Lawrence Wilkerson, among others, has
pointed out, Washington has repeatedly betrayed
commitments to resolve the Korean crisis
through dialogue and political concessions.
past, China has urged the resumption
of multi-party regional talks which the US
abandoned during the George W. Bush
administration. China has also proposed a mutual
de-escalation of military forces on the
Peninsula by North Korea and the US.
wonders, though, has the calculus now shifted
in Beijing to the point where it is considering
"taking care" of the North Korea problem in a
views expressed in this article are solely those
of the author and do not necessarily reflect the
opinions of Information Clearing House.