The Chinese government has dispatched diplomats to begin discussions with high-level officials in both South Korea and the United States regarding how to approach North Korea’s belligerent activity this week, including the detonation of a nuclear weapon the rogue state claims was a hydrogen bomb.
South Korean news outlet Yonhap reports today that China’s chief diplomat for the Korean peninsula, Wu Dawei, spoke to his counterpart in South Korea and vowed to “cooperate closely with South Korea when the United Nations Security Council takes suitable action against the latest situation.” South Korean diplomat Hwang Joon-kook added that his nation sought “close South Korea-China cooperation in taking differentiated, harsh action” against North Korea.
China “will never accept North Korea as a nuclear-possessing country,” Wu asserted.
Reuters notes that a separate telephone meeting between the two nations’ foreign ministers, Yun Byung-se of South Korea and Wang Yi of China, was scheduled for Friday, as well. The call comes some days later than South Korea had desired due to a scheduling issue.
The Chinese Foreign Ministry also confirmed that Wang had spoken to U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry on Thursday and “stated China’s position.” “No matter what happens, [all parties] should adhere to the objective of denuclearization of the peninsula and maintain peace, stability in the peninsula,” spokeswoman Hua Chunying said. Wang allegedly expressed eagerness to work with the United States and other concerned parties to curb the North Korean threat.
In a statement Thursday, Kerry described his conversation with Wang as one in which Kerry asserted that China’s approach to North Korea had failed. “China had a particular approach that it wanted to make, and we agreed and respected to give them space to be able to implement that,” he said, “Today in my conversation with the Chinese I made it clear: That has not worked, and we cannot continue business as usual.”
China, a number of experts have noted, has been critical in North Korea’s government surviving multiple rounds of sanctions by the United Nations. “China provides North Korea with most of its food and energy supplies and comprises over sixty percent of its total trade volume,” the Council on Foreign Relations notes, keeping North Korea’s economy afloat.
The existing sanctions have not had a major impact on Pyongyang nuclear program mainly because China does not enforce them or for that matter its own export control laws. North Korea can buy what its needs rather freely in China, including German products intended for use in China but which are secretly and illegally diverted to North Korea,” David Albright, president of the Washington-based Institute for Science and International Security, tells Deutsche Welle.
Even after Wednesday’s nuclear blast, China appears to have continued business as usual with Pyongyang.
The Chinese government nonetheless appears sensitive to public criticism of its ties with North Korea. “I want to emphasize that the origin and frictions of the North Korean nuclear issue do not lie in China. The key of resolving the issue does not lie in China,” spokeswoman Hua said Friday. State news outlet Xinhua ran a column condemning sanctions as ineffective in such diplomatic problems, without mentioning that many consider China singlehandedly responsible for the failings of UN sanctions against North Korea.
Naturally, China blamed the United States for North Korea’s belligerent attitude. “Washington’s antagonist approach has pushed Pyongyang further down the path of nuclear capability,” another Xinhua column contends, alleging that “any progress toward denuclearization on the Korean Peninsula hinges on improvement in U.S.-DPRK ties,” and not on China.
The People’s Daily, which tends to be more opinionated than Xinhua, has cited a “researcher” as claiming that the United States is preparing a military invasion of North Korea, a claim for which there is no evidence. “The military deployment is possible as the US will not dismiss the chance to expand itsmilitary presence in the Asia-Pacific region, neither will its ally Japan,” the researcher claims.
Despite using the dispute to attack the United States, China’s reaction to the nuclear blast indicates it may be ready to proactively work towards curbing dictator Kim Jong-Un after years of enabling the regime in Pyongyang. “We strongly urge the North Korean side to remain committed to its commitment of denuclearization and stop taking any actions that will make the situation worse,” Hua said on Wednesday, the Chinese government’s first response to the news.
In the meantime, South Korea has resumed its propaganda broadcasts over the border, which were halted after a brief return in August as part of a deal to avoid war with North Korea. “The anti-DPRK propaganda began to be broadcast from noon across the border toward the DPRK at 11 locations in frontline areas, installed with a set of large loudspeakers,” reports note. The content of these broadcasts may contain anything from weather reports to condemnations of Kim Jong-Un to K-Pop songs, a South Korean electronic hip-hop hybrid genre of music.