The Chinese state-run newspaper Global Times has published a column attacking President Donald Trump for his administration’s attempts to reassert Washington’s commitment to its alliance with South Korea, accusing Trump of increasing the possibility that North and South Korea “will be thrown into a war.”
“We used to believe that the South China Sea is the very region where military clashes between Beijing and Washington will occur. But the Korean Peninsula could more likely be where the US could gain the upper hand over China,” a column in the Communist Party propaganda outlet reads. “Compared with the other areas of instability in China’s peripheral regions, the peninsula has the exact condition for a war to break out and the situation may spiral out of China’s control. Trump’s presidency has heightened this possibility.”
The column goes on to accuse Trump of approaching the region with an “unclear” foreign policy strategy and speculating that “no one knows what [North Korean dictator] Kim [Jong-un] wants and what he would do under an aggressive US,” suggesting China — North Korea’s closest ally — no longer has control over Pyongyang.
This is far from the first time outlets connected to the government in Beijing have suggested that President Trump will trigger a war. This week, the People’s Liberation Army (PLA), the Chinese military, issued a statement on its website stating, “‘a war within the president’s term’ or ‘war breaking out tonight’ are not just slogans, they are becoming a practical reality.”
Also on Friday, another Global Times column compared Trump to “racist aviator Charles Lindbergh” for using “nationalist” language in his inauguration address.
As Beijing often does, the statements from the government itself on Friday were significantly more tepid than those from its official propaganda arms. U.S. Secretary of Defense James Mattis is currently conducting his first overseas voyage as Pentagon chief to South Korea and Japan, an event the Chinese Foreign Ministry remarked on in its regular briefing.
Responding to Mattis’s comments that the U.S.-South Korean Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) missile defense system, spokesman Lu Kang told reporters, “China’s opposition to its deployment by the US and the ROK [South Korea] in the ROK is consistent and explicit… We believe that this move will undermine the strategic security interests of regional countries including China, disrupt regional strategic balance, and help in no way peace and stability on the Korea Peninsula.”
Mattis went out of his way in comments Thursday in Seoul to note that THAAD is designed to deter a North Korean attack on South Korean territory, not to deter Chinese military activity. “It is a defensive system. There is only one reason we would have this under discussion right now — that is, North Korea’s activities,” he told reporters.
In a front-page column, Xinhua, another Chinese state media outlet, disputed Mattis’s words. The THAAD system, the column argues, will “foster arms race [sic] given the relationship between ballistic missiles and anti-missile systems that can be likened to a fight between spears and shields.” Seoul agreed to the system due to the “mythology” that it “cannot defend itself,” the article claims.
South Korea and the United States remain closely linked allies, with 28,500 American troops stationed throughout the country.