The Chinese state-run propaganda newspaper the Global Times published an article suggesting that a nuclear-armed North Korea is a greater threat to communist China than any attempts at “containment” by the United States.
The column, following remarks from Chinese officials that they are seeking greater cooperation with U.S. President Donald Trump to resolve tensions with the fellow communist country, belies an elevated alarm in Beijing that dictator Kim Jong-un presents a particular danger to the stability of the region and China’s position in the region.
The Global Times, in an opinion piece, acknowledged President Trump’s remarks that he would be open to meeting with Kim if it were “appropriate” to keep the peace in the region. “Trump has envisioned a scenario which, from the US perspective, can hardly be achieved soon. But his words at least can help ease tensions on the Korean Peninsula,” the newspaper argued.
Noting that, for China, America’s “bottom line” in North Korea remains unclear – what Kim has to do to earn a meeting with President Trump – and that America may have “ulterior motives in solving the nuclear issue,” the Times appears to endorse cooperation with America over support for a longtime communist ally.
“[C]ompared to the potential impairment brought about by the US’ geopolitical containment of China, the danger of potential nuclear contamination of China’s northeast is more urgent,” the Times suggests.
“Whenever North Korea conducts a larger-scale nuclear test than the previous time, northeastern China would be exposed to more risks. Therefore, China is firm in preventing North Korea from carrying out new nuclear tests through sanctions,” the article notes.
The newspaper took shots at President Trump in another article, claiming that he has issued “conflicting” statements by recognizing a high probability of military confrontation with Pyongyang while also suggesting that a meeting with Kim is not impossible.
The Chinese Foreign Ministry appears to be on the side of the first article, however, as spokesman Geng Shuang told reporters Tuesday that Trump’s remarks on meeting Kim were “positive” and that China supported both sides choosing to “resume contact” as soon as possible.
“We have noted the remarks recently made by the US side and the positive message in them. We believe that the US and the DPRK, as parties directly concerned on the nuclear issue on the Korean Peninsula, should take concrete actions as soon as possible, demonstrate their sincerity, and work hard for an early restart of talks,” Geng said. The spokesman nonetheless reiterated his country’s opposition to the Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) missile system the United States has installed in South Korea to protect from North Korean attack, as that system can reach deep into Chinese territory.
Part of the rift between China and North Korea appears to come from an increased willingness on the part of Pyongyang to publicly rebuke China. In February, a column in North Korea’s state newspaper Rodong Sinmun referred to China, though not by name, as a “U.S. vassal force” following China’s decision to adhere to United Nations economic sanctions. In April, reports surfaced that North Korea had ignored multiple requests from Chinese diplomats for bilateral talks.
North Korea has fallen in disfavor with Chinese citizens, as well – at least according to the comments the government allows to remain on social media. Chinese officials were forced to censor the phrase “Fatty Kim the Third” after social media users began popularly referring to the dictator with this insult, and many condemned North Korea openly following the assassination of Kim Jong-Nam, Kim Jong-un’s brother, seen as an ally of China’s.
This week, Chinese social media users widely shared an article from a Hong Kong news outlet claiming that China had sent a “final warning” to North Korea to stop attempting to trigger a nuclear war or lose its greatest ally.