China’s extensive military drills near its border with North Korea are not intended to alarm Pyongyang or curb the Kim regime’s belligerent behavior, the Chinese Foreign Ministry clarified Thursday.
North Korea launched what it claims to be an advanced intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) on Tuesday that landed in the Sea of Japan, the latest in a string of provocations in service of the nation’s illegal nuclear weapons program. North Korea aspires to produce an ICBM capable of carrying a nuclear warhead and routinely threatens to use the technology to target American cities.
Chinese Defense Ministry spokesperson Wu Qian told reporters Thursday that the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) military drills near the China-North Korea border occurred as part of an annual calendar of such drills and was not timed to coincide with Pyongyang’s missile launch, according to the state-run Global Times.
“China’s ongoing military drills are not aimed at any country,” Wu reportedly said. The Times adds that the drills in question in the Horqin Grassland are meant “to enhance the army’s combat readiness in cold weather.”
The South China Morning Post highlighted the military exercises that began this weekend and included exercises in which the Chinese army is split into two teams and simulates a battle with itself. The exercises reportedly occurred “in sub-zero temperatures east of Inner Mongolia on Saturday morning” and have continued since.
These are not the first Chinese military exercises scheduled around a major North Korean provocation. In September, following Pyongyang’s sixth nuclear bomb test, the PLA orchestrated an exercise to practice against a “surprise attack” by long-range missiles, indicating to some concern in Beijing over the possibility of an unstable Kim Jong-un turning on his closest ally. North Korean state-controlled media has previously accused China of “dancing to the tune of the U.S.” and taking “inhumane steps” by ceding to U.N. sanctions, despite China’s status as North Korea’s largest trade partner.
At the time that the South China Morning Post reported the exercises this week, North Korea had yet to launch its latest missile. Even so, however, the newspaper cited analysts who found significance in the fact that these exercises were occurring just as Chinese special envoy Song Tao ended his visit to North Korea.
Song was reportedly in the country to update the North Korean communists with the major takeaways of October’s Chinese Communist Party (CPC) Congress. China traditionally sends such envoys after every Congress to North Korea, Cuba, Vietnam, and other communist nations.
“The purpose of this visit is to brief about the party congress and exchange views on issues of common interest and bilateral interest,” Foreign Ministry spokesperson Geng Shuang asserted upon Song’s departure to North Korea.
While the PLA’s ground troops operate in the frigid northeast, the People’s Daily reported on Thursday that its air force is conducting exercises in the “deep desert.” While the state outlet did not provide more information, the news follows reports that China is attempting to become more involved in the Syrian civil war on the side of dictator Bashar al-Assad and the governments of Iran and Russia. China has largely abstained from the ongoing wars in the Middle East and refused to take in any of the millions of refugees spread out around the globe.
The Global Times also addresses China’s closure of the bridge that links Dandong, China, to North Korea, which China closed citing the need for repairs. “Chinese Foreign ministry spokesman Geng Shuang on November 24 said the China-North Korea Friendship Bridge across the Yalu River in the Chinese city of Dandong will be closed while North Korea repairs the approach road on its side,” the Times reported, quoting Geng as adding that the bridge will reopen as soon as possible.
Chinese communist officials have previously dismissed North Korea’s ongoing threats to the globe as a “U.S. obligation” while demanding the United States play no role in Asia’s affairs. State media, however, has warned North Korea that it would not support Pyongyang if it decides on a preemptive strike against the United States.
Geng told reporters on Wednesday that China “expresses grave concern and opposition to the DPRK’s launching activities.”