China seethes on sidelines amid latest
North Korea crisis
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[August 10, 2017]
By Ben Blanchard and Michael Martina
BEIJING (Reuters) - Angered as the United
States 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 nuclear-armed Pyongyang.
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 U.S. President Donald
Trump that it would face "fire and fury" if it threatened the United
States as a "load of nonsense", and 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
President Xi Jinping has been out of the public eye for more than a
week, likely because he is at a secretive Communist Party conclave in
the seaside resort of Beidaihe preparing for a key party congress in the
autumn, 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," said the
diplomat, speaking on condition of anonymity.
State media has as usual called for dialogue to end the crisis, but has
also lambasted the United States 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
Also Thursday, the influential Chinese tabloid Global Times said
Washington "only wants to heighten the sanctions and military threats
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
(THAAD) anti-missile system. Beijing says THAAD threatens its own
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, co-director 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 nuclear programs.
[to top of second column]
Intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBM) are driven past the stand
with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un and other high ranking
officials during a military parade marking the 105th birth
anniversary of country's founding father Kim Il Sung, in Pyongyang
April 15, 2017. REUTERS/Damir Sagolj
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
China also believes its influence over North Korea, whose
relationship China used to describe as "close as lips and teeth," is
"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
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,
although Foreign Minister Wang Yi said this week that they were
needed. However, he said the final aim should be to resolve the
issue via talks as only that would ensure lasting peace and
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 U.S.
investigation into possible Russian meddling in last year's
"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)
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