Sino-US relations put to test as tension escalates on Korean Peninsula

By Zhao Minghao

A vitriolic war of words between North Korean leader Kim Jong-un and US President Donald Trump has triggered concern across the world. As Trump vowed at the UN General Assembly to "totally destroy" North Korea, Kim responded by threatening to "tame the mentally deranged US dotard with fire." 

North Korea will celebrate the founding anniversary of the Workers' Party of Korea on October 10 and there have been concerns about possible intercontinental or submarine-launched ballistic missile tests ordered by this country, which will probably invite strong response from the Trump administration, leading to a military conflict. Preventive diplomacy is urgently needed to stop war from breaking out on the Korean Peninsula. 

After the sixth nuclear test earlier this month, Pyongyang launched another ballistic missile that is said to have travelled 3,700 kilometers. Kim later vowed to reach the country's nuclear goals. By threatening Guam, which is 3,400 kilometers away from Pyongyang and houses the base from which American strategic bombers fly to North Korea, Pyongyang tried to send a message to Washington that it is capable of launching attacks on US soil. 

Washington of late seems to be secretly boosting military preparedness. On September 18, US Defense Secretary James Mattis admitted for the first time that the US was consulting South Korea on redeploying tactical nuclear weapons once removed in the 1990s. As North Korea keeps promoting nuclear programs, calls for nuclearization of South Korea have emerged. As some in the US military also agree, redeployment of tactical nuclear weapons may fuel the risk of a nuclear war between the US and South Korea on one side and North Korea on the other. The US, South Korea and Japan have recently sent a dozen combat aircraft over the Korean Peninsula to flex their muscle. Aircraft in drill include two American B-1B bombers, four American F-35B fighter jets, four South Korean F-15K fighter jets and four F-2 fighter jets owned by Japan Air Self-Defense Force. 

Early this month, the US and South Korea held an anti-submarine military exercise east of the Korean Peninsula. They are also considering to deploy F-22 and F-35B stealth fighters and planning to send US nuclear-powered submarine to South Korea. Such measures are aimed at strengthening the US extended deterrence. Pacific Fleet Commander Adm. Scott Swift said the US will send the nuclear-powered aircraft carrier Ronald Reagan to the peninsula. 

More notably, the THAAD deployment in North Gyeongsang Province is complete and the system is in a state of combat readiness with fire-control radars set to work. Obviously, the possibility of armed conflict on the Korean Peninsula is rapidly growing. If UN Resolution 2375 is fully implemented, the North Korean economy will soon deteriorate. Then Pyongyang will have no choice other than speeding up nuclear and ballistic missile tests at all costs, while the US may take stronger military countermeasures. Such a vicious cycle is what countries including China are concerned about. 

Beijing is trying harder with more effective diplomacy to defuse the crisis and restart talks. Chinese President Xi Jinping recently communicated with German Chancellor Angela Merkel and French President Emmanuel Macron, and all three swear by dialogue in place of a military solution. Merkel has also said that a solution to the Iran nuclear crisis may help find a way out. 

The international community, especially the US and China, should stay united in the process of preventing North Korea from acquiring nuclear weapons. But some Senators and House Members in the US demand that the Trump administration increase sanctions on Chinese companies and financial institutions including the Bank of China. Considering that institutions such as the Bank of China and the Industrial and Commercial Bank of China own assets over $144 billion in the US, such an unfriendly act will not only hurt Sino-US cooperation on North Korea but also hit economic and financial ties. 

With tensions rising on the peninsula, the Trump administration urgently needs a comprehensive and cohesive strategy and control over decision-making. Lawmakers in the US should not create trouble for Trump or queer the pitch for better Sino-US relations. Neither should the "Taiwan card" be played, lest American interests are put to the test. Interaction between China and the US to resolve the North Korean nuclear issue will significantly impact the bilateral relationship over the next five decades. Hence, everyone needs to be prudent. 

The author is a senior research fellow with The Charhar Institute and an adjunct fellow at the Chongyang Institute for Financial Studies at Renmin University of China. [email protected]
 
 
Global Times
 
 
04.10.2017
 
 
 

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