Speaking through its state-controlled media, China has warned North Korea not to “cross the point of no return” by conducting another nuclear test. North Korea evidently has no interest in defusing tensions on the peninsula as it conducted a massive live-fire artillery drill on Tuesday – possibly the largest such drill it has ever performed.
China’s warning was sent through the Global Times newspaper, which praised the “smooth communication” between President Xi Jinping and U.S. President Donald Trump but warned about the “tense situation” in North Korea.
“The game of chicken between Washington and Pyongyang has come to a breaking point. If North Korea carries out a sixth nuclear test as expected, it is more likely than ever that the situation will cross the point of no return. All stakeholders will bear the consequences, with Pyongyang sure to suffer the greatest losses,” the Global Times wrote.
The Global Times, however, also professed sympathy for North Korea’s regime, couching its warnings in the language of friends trying to help another friend avoid making a serious miscalculation.
“Pyongyang has pursued an independent course since the end of the Korean War. The integrity of the nation’s sovereignty is much higher than that of South Korea. This has impressed quite a few people,” the Global Times asserts, stroking North Korea’s ego to improve the chances its warnings will be read in Pyongyang.
The North Koreans are warned that tighter sanctions could “deal a heavy blow” to their economy. If the United States feels compelled to launch “surgical strikes” against North Korean nuclear or missile facilities, the result would be either the obliteration of Kim Jong-un’s regime or a catastrophic loss of credibility, should Kim accept U.S. strikes without massive retaliation.
In the latter scenario, the Global Times warns Pyongyang that the United States would “play it like a fiddle.”
The editorial also contains some exasperated hand-wringing about how Beijing cannot satisfy the demands of both the United States and North Korea at the same time, which conveys a message that China has gone about as far as it is willing to go with economic pressure against North Korea. Some have been hoping China would use its ultimate leverage and choke off North Korea’s oil supply, but China is always nervous about taking actions that might bring down the Kim regime and trigger a flood of refugees into China.
North Korea’s artillery exercise, timed to coincide with the 85th anniversary of the foundation of their national army, reportedly involved 300 to 400 artillery pieces in the eastern coastal province of Wonsan.
International Institute for Strategic Studies Asia senior fellow Alex Neill told CNN the North Koreans were sending a message to Seoul with their artillery drill, which used guns very similar to the weapons pointed at major South Korean cities.
“It’s important for the DPRK to remind the South that very large swathes of the South Korean population are within artillery range of the North,” said Neill. “So it is a sign that if the North is provoked or there is preemptive action, then a lot of Seoul and its suburbs would be within artillery range of the North.”
He added that some of those rockets and artillery shells could be carrying chemical or even nuclear weapons since South Korean targets are close enough for North Korea to hit without using the advanced long-range missiles they have been developing.
The American nuclear submarine USS Michigan arrived at the port city of Busan in South Korea on Tuesday, in a show of the United States’ continuing commitment to resolve the North Korean situation after what President Trump described as decades of the civilized world wearing “blindfolds.”
“This is a real threat to the world, whether we want to talk about it or not. North Korea’s a big world problem, and it’s a problem we have to finally solve. People put blindfolds on for decades and now it’s time to solve the problem,” Trump said at a lunch for U.N. ambassadors from Security Council nations.
A rare briefing involving all 100 U.S. senators will be held at the White House on Wednesday to address the situation in North Korea. The briefing will be held by Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, Secretary of Defense Jim Mattis, Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats, and Joint Chiefs chairman General Joseph Dunford. A similar briefing is being put together for the House of Representatives.