China is uneasy with how matters are progressing with North Korea. Far from being neutralized, the threat of armed conflict is only growing worse. The Chinese military, anticipating future problems, is moving at least 300,000 troops closer to its border with North Korea.
China’s fears are two-fold. There’s the obvious risk of nuclear war that has set the entire world on edge, but China also has to worry about the aftermath of any drastic action taken by dictator Kim Jong Un. The 25 million oppressed people living in North Korea will stream into China if conditions become too severe.
Beijing knows that the only way to prevent a massive refugee crisis is to keep North Korea in check.
“Any accident, nuclear or military, will have a catastrophic spillover on us. … The pressure, economic and military, on [North Korea] continues to build up,” said Cui Tiankai, the Chinese ambassador to the United States.
“Yet how much is sufficient without triggering a humanitarian crisis or pushing Pyongyang into desperation? Another Iraq, Libya or Syria in Northeast Asia is a nightmare for all.”
Missile defense batteries are being mobilized as well as troops. A Chinese newspaper reports that the county had “late last year deployed another missile defense battery at an armored division in Helong, west of Longjing in the Yanbian Korean Autonomous Prefecture.”
China’s bold move will be a relief to the Trump administration. “China could easily solve this problem!” President Trump tweeted last year.
The U.S. has been calling on China to adopt a more aggressive stance toward North Korea. The secretive state is so burdened with international sanctions that its economy would crumble if it weren’t being propped up by China.
China has so far been reluctant to cooperate. Kim’s continued belligerence seems to have finally convinced them a tougher approach is necessary.
“The most urgent task at hand is to halt [North Korea’s] nuclear and missile programs,” the Chinese foreign minister said in a speech before the UN Security Council.
“To achieve this, it is worthwhile to put aside the contention over who should take the first step and who is right, who is wrong. Rather, we should start from reaching for low-hanging fruits, defuse any flashpoint endangering peace on the peninsula, and create conditions for stability in the region.”
It’s in North Korea’s best interest to maintain its relationship with China, but Kim’s aggressiveness knows no bounds. Last year a state-owned newspaper blasted China for being too close to the U.S.
“This country, styling itself a big power, is dancing to the tune of the U.S. while defending its mean behavior with such excuses that it was meant not to have a negative impact on the living of the people in the DPRK but to check its nuclear program,” the author writes.
President Trump, like many experts, believes that China is the key to ending the crisis. North Korea wouldn’t be able to exist without help from the Chinese.
American and Chinese negotiators worked together to bring new sanctions against North Korea last year. U.S. officials worry, however, that China will fail to enforce them.
Even if the sanctions are properly enforced, the Chinese negotiator worked to lessen their impact. The measures adopted by the United Nations Security Council do no prohibit countries from exporting oil to North Korea.
Some analysts believe that North Korea’s nuclear program is so developed it no longer matters if China provides support or not.
If authorities cracked down on trade and stopped exporting goods to Pyongyang, it’s not clear that that would convince Kim to abandon the country’s nuclear arms program. The technology is moving faster than the law, sanctions can’t keep up.
“If China were to abandon all its economic links [with North Korea], North Korea would still not abandon nuclear weapons,” Shen Dingli, a professor of international relations at Fudan University in Shanghai, said.
“North Korea’s nuclear-weapons program is impossible to stop… just like it was impossible to stop American nuclear weapons, impossible to stop Chinese nuclear weapons, impossible to stop Israel’s nuclear weapons, Indian nuclear weapons, and Pakistan’s nuclear weapons.”
China may not be able to single-handedly solve the crisis, but its involvement is likely to help. China’s leniency toward Kim’s regime is partly what’s allowed North Korea to grow so powerful. The threat is now almost unmanageable. If the last-ditch efforts to keep the peace fail, China will feel the consequences more than almost any other country.