North Korea tension tops China-Russia agenda

Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi makes an official visit to Russia on Thursday and Friday for meetings with key officials, including his counterpart Sergei Lavrov. China and Russia are well aware that security problems on the Korean peninsula have no easy resolution. Both are grappling with how best to respond to not just the regular missile launches by Pyongyang, but also its nuclear tests.

Recent rhetoric out of the United States has given Beijing, in particular, heightened concerns that Washington might now be thinking, much more seriously, about a pre-emptive strike on Pyongyang’s nuclear capabilities. Several weeks ago, for instance, US President Donald Trump made clear – prior to his meeting with Chinese President Xi Jinping in Florida – that if Beijing “is not going to solve North Korea, we [the United States] will”.

Moreover, after the session with Xi, Trump sent the USS Carl Vinson aircraft carrier to waters near North Korea. This ups the ante further from US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson’s striking announcement on his Asia trip earlier this year that the two decade US policy of “strategic patience” towards Pyongyang is now over and “all options” are on the table.

Wang Li asserted last month that “China’s priority now is to flash the red light and apply the brake to both [the US and North Korean] trains” to avoid a collision. Beijing and Moscow are concerned that the tensions on the peninsular could spiral out of control and have supported a UN Security Council initiative that would build on the UN vote last year to tighten some sanctions in response to Pyongyang’s nuclear tests.

Unlike the US, China has been reluctant to take more comprehensive, sweeping measures against its erstwhile ally. The key reason Beijing has differed with Washington over the scope and severity of actions against Pyongyang largely reflects the fact that it does not want to push the regime so hard that it becomes significantly destabilized. From the vantage point of Chinese officials, this risks North Korea behaving even more unpredictably and the outside possibility of the implosion of the regime would not be in Beijing’s interests. This is not least as it could lead to instability on the North Korea-China border, and ultimately the potential emergence of a pro-US successor nation.

[Mail & Guardian]

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