China has announced that it will remain neutral in a US-North Korea conflict if North Korea makes the first move.
If the US and South Korea prepare to make the first move, however, China will attempt to prevent it. This stance is a huge blow to Kim Jong-un, who was probably counting on China to have his back.
China views North Korea as a sort of buffer between it and US forces in South Korea and Japan and fears that a war could result in a unified peninsula allied with the US.
“The Korean Peninsula is where the strategic interests of all sides converge, and no side should try to be the absolute dominator of the region,” reports the state-owned tabloid Global Times. The editorial also suggested China would work with Russia to prevent military confrontations. This is a direct reference to the ongoing US-South Korea military exercises.
“Many people see the possibility of war is low. The real dangers are reckless games and the…strategic ‘war’ it could bring about.”
China’s neutrality statement comes after North Korea threatened to attack the US island territory of Guam, a threat Trump has responded to by stating that any additional threats will be met with “fire and fury…the likes of which the world has never seen.”
The actual headline here is that China is providing conditions on its neutrality, but Trump’s rhetoric is important in the negotiating process.Negotiations seem to be at a standstill for the moment, each side waiting for something to break.
Earlier this month, the UN adopted new, tougher sanctions on North Korea in response to its recent nuclear weapons tests. The sanctions are expected to reduce the nation’s exports by a full third.
“We will make the US pay by a thousandfold for all the heinous crimes it commits against this state and people of this country,” said North Korea’s official news agency.
The sanctions may not have worked on their own, but combined with China’s next move, they could incite the tipping point Trump has been waiting for.
Meanwhile, Australia and Japan have reiterated their loyalty to the US, with Japan saying that it is ready to shoot down North Korean missiles if necessarily.
In the midst of all these threats come assurances from the White House that our nuclear arsenal is more powerful than ever.
“While our State Department is making every effort to resolve this global threat through diplomatic means, it must be noted that the combined allied militaries now possess the most precise, rehearsed, and robust defensive and offensive capabilities on Earth,” said Defense Secretary Jim Mattis.
Behind the scenes
As reported on Friday, the Trump Administration has been secretly negotiating with North Korea for the past few months through an avenue of communication they call the “New York channel.”
We already knew there were discussions regarding the June release of American college student Otto Warmbier, but we didn’t know the discussions had continued or that they were related to anything other than US detainees.
These discussions seem to have had no effect on growing tensions between the two countries, but they could turn out to be the foundation for more serious negotiations in the future.
Contacts are reportedly occurring between Joseph Yun, the US envoy for North Korea policy, and Pak Song Il, a senior North Korean diplomat at the country’s UN mission.
“Contrary to the public vitriol of the moment, the North Koreans were willing to reopen the New York channel following the election of President Trump and his administration signaled an openness to engage and ’talk about talks,’” says spokesman Keith Luse of the National Committee on North Korea. “However, the massive trust deficit in Pyongyang and in Washington toward each other has impeded the confidence-building process necessary to have constructive dialogue.”
At the end of the day, North Korea and America are still enemies. We ended the 1950-1953 Korean War with armistice, not peace.
“North Korea is assessing its options,” says Suzanne DiMaggio of the New America think tank. “They recognize that at some point they have to return to the table to address what’s becoming a crisis. That’s what they are weighing right now: the timing of engagement.”
Editor's note: This is actually a substantial announcement on the part of the Chinese. The fact that they support North Korea only under certain circumstances distances China from the potential craziness that North Korea might produce.