China Takes Wait-and-See Approach as Seoul Says Beijing ‘Open’ to North Korea Sanctions

South Korean Foreign Minister Kang Kyung-wha claimed following a chat with Chinese counterpart Wang Yi on Tuesday that China could potentially support harsher sanctions on North Korea following its sixth illegal nuclear test on Sunday.

Pyongyang claimed the bomb tested was a hydrogen fusion bomb, which, if true, would signal a dramatic improvement in the potency of North Korea’s nuclear weapons program. The international community has responded to the nuclear test with condemnation and horror.

Following their conservation Tuesday, Kang told reporters that she had confidence China would support more sanctions if tailored properly to the threat. “I cannot tell you exact details as the minister asked me not to disclose the content of our discussion but I could sense that China could be open to more sanctions,” she said, according to Reuters.

The Chinese Foreign Ministry has not been forthcoming with how they would approach North Korea following the test. While China signed onto the latest round of U.N. Security Council sanctions against Pyongyang, they also comprise the bulk of trade with North Korea in both imports and exports and have refused the kind of significant sanctions experts believe could sink the North Korean economy.

During the daily press briefing Tuesday, Foreign Ministry spokesman Geng Shuang gave a vague response to whether his government would support new sanctions. “As to how the UN Security Council will respond and what action it may take, this depends on what comes out of the discussion by its members,” he said. “China will participate in the relevant discussion of the Security Council with a responsible and constructive attitude while following our stance of advancing the denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula, upholding peace and stability on the Korean Peninsula and promoting the peaceful settlement of the relevant issue through dialogue and negotiation.”

“I shall stress that in terms of resolving the Korean Peninsula nuclear issue, the use of military means is not a viable choice and sanctions alone will never be a way out,” he added.

China’s United Nations ambassador Liu Jieyi also issued a noncommittal rebuke of North Korea, stating following the test, “China will never allow chaos and war on the peninsula.”

The Global Times, China’s state newspaper, sheds some light on how the Chinese government seeks to approach the issue – by suggesting that North Korea and the United States are equally culpable in the crisis and that the only solution to North Korea’s belligerence is for the United States to rescind from the global stage and allow Chinese hegemony to take place.

“The sanctions imposed by the international community have proved somewhat effective; however sanctions cannot shake Pyongyang’s determination to possess nuclear weapons in the current geopolitical climate,” a Global Times column published Tuesday read. “Therefore, resolving the North Korean nuclear issue requires cooperation from the US and South Korea, who should offer Pyongyang a sense of security. When Washington completely refuses to decrease its military pressure on Pyongyang, there is little possibility that the latter will stop its nuclear and missile activities.”

The column concludes suggesting that “no matter the circumstances, the US will be among those who would bear the least consequences.”

The Trump administration has made clear following the nuclear test that pressuring China is as important as pressuring North Korea, given their deep economic ties. Trump himself said on Twitter that Washington would consider cutting economic ties with North Korean trade partners, a list which China tops. Chinese officials responded by protesting that Beijing is “making arduous efforts to peacefully resolve the North Korean nuclear issue,” and any threats against them are not acceptable.

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