President Xi Jinping in Beijing on February
BEIJING — Angered as the US and its allies ignore Chinese calls
to calm tensions over North Korea, and distracted by domestic
concerns, China is largely sitting out the latest crisis with
While a conflict on the Korean Peninsula would affect China, and
in worst-case scenarios unleash a radioactive cloud or waves of
refugees into its northeast, Beijing has kept a low profile as
tension has escalated in recent days.
North Korea dismissed on Thursday warnings by US President Donald
Trump that it would face “fire and fury” if it threatened the US
as a “load of nonsense,” and it outlined plans for a missile
strike near the Pacific territory of Guam.
China, whose regular daily foreign-ministry press briefings are
suspended for a two-week summer holiday, has said little in
public about the situation this week, reiterating its usual calls
for calm and restraint.
President Xi Jinping has been out of the public eye for more than
a week, most likely because he is at a secretive Communist Party
conclave in the seaside resort of Beidaihe preparing for a key
party congress in the fall, diplomats say.
One Beijing-based Asian diplomat said China was also distracted
by a protracted border dispute with India.
“China has different priorities and it’s clear what they are,”
the diplomat said, speaking on condition of anonymity.
State media has as usual called for dialogue to end the crisis,
but it has also lambasted the US and its allies for doing little
to damp down the flames.
The official Xinhua news agency on Thursday accused Japan of
“fishing in troubled waters,” using North Korea as an excuse for
its own remilitarization. Japan issued a defense white paper this
week that warned it was possible that North Korea had already
developed nuclear warheads.
Also Thursday, the influential Chinese tabloid Global Times said
Washington “only wants to heighten the sanctions and military
threats against Pyongyang.”
Donald Trump welcoming Xi in Palm Beach,
Mad over THAAD
Seoul has fared little better, with China directing anger its way
over South Korea’s deployment of the Terminal High Altitude Area
Defense antimissile system. Beijing says
THAAD threatens its security, fearing that its
powerful radar will see far into China and will do nothing to
bring North Korea back to talks.
“China is not too worried that the United States might suddenly
attack North Korea. It is worried about THAAD,” said
Sun Zhe, the codirector of the China Initiative of Columbia
University’s School of International and Public Affairs.
China remains North Korea’s most important ally and trading
partner, despite Beijing’s anger at Pyongyang’s missile and
China has signed up for tough United Nations sanctions that were
agreed on Saturday and says it is committed to enforcing them.
Yet Beijing has been upset by complaints from Washington and
Tokyo it is not doing enough to rein in North Korea. The foreign
ministry last month called for an end to what it termed the
“China responsibility theory.”
China also believes its influence over North Korea, whose
relationship China used to describe as “close as lips and teeth,”
“China has never ‘owned’ North Korea, and North Korea has never
listened to China’s suggestions,” said Zhang Liangui, a North
Korea expert at China’s Central Party School, which trains rising
“Neither North Korea nor the United States listens to China.
They’re too busy heading down the path to a military clash.
There’s not much China can do. China can’t stop North Korea and
it can’t stop the United States.”
China’s recent relationship with North Korea soured around 2013
as Pyongyang stepped up its missile and nuclear programs,
rejecting Chinese efforts to engage the country economically and
encourage it to open up.
Chinese officials have for years doubted the efficacy of
sanctions, though Foreign Minister Wang Yi said this week that
they were needed. He said the final aim, however, should be to
resolve the issue via talks as only that would ensure lasting
peace and stability.
Wang Dong, associate professor of international studies at the
elite Peking University, said China had tried hard to prevent the
situation from getting out of control. He also said Trump’s
domestic problems could play into the current crisis, referring
to the US investigation into possible Russian meddling in last
year’s presidential election.
“When facing increasingly difficult domestic problems, Trump
might have an increasing incentive to do something. Maybe he
initially would want a limited military conflict,” Wang said. “So
people are certainly worried about that.”
(Editing by Philip McClellan)
Read the original article on Reuters. Copyright 2017. Follow Reuters on Twitter.
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