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Asean & Global Updates
POSTED | 13:42 PM | 10-08-2017

China seethes on sidelines

Angered as the United States and its allies ignore Chinese calls to calm tensions over North Korea, and distracted by domestic concerns, China is largely sitting out the latest crisis with nuclear-armed Pyongyang.

While a conflict on the Korean peninsula would affect China, and in worst-case scenarios unleash a radioactive cloud or waves of refugees into its northeast, Beijing has kept a low profile as tension has escalated in recent days, Reuters reported on Thursday (August 10, 2017).

North Korea dismissed on Thursday warnings by US President Donald Trump that it would face “fire and fury” if it threatened the United States as a “load of nonsense,” and outlined plans for a missile strike near the Pacific territory of Guam.

China, whose regular daily foreign ministry press briefings are suspended for a two-week summer holiday, has said little in public about the situation this week, reiterating its usual calls for calm and restraint.

President Xi Jinping has been out of the public eye for more than a week, likely because he is at a secretive Communist Party conclave in the seaside resort of Beidaihe preparing for a key party congress in the autumn, diplomats say.

One Beijing-based Asian diplomat said China was also distracted by a protracted border dispute with India.

“China has different priorities and it’s clear what they are,” said the diplomat, speaking on condition of anonymity.

State media has as usual called for dialogue to end the crisis, but has also lambasted the United States and its allies for doing little to damp down the flames.

The official Xinhua news agency on Thursday accused Japan of “fishing in troubled waters,” using North Korea as an excuse for its own remilitarization. Japan issued a defense white paper this week that warned it was possible that North Korea had already developed nuclear warheads.

Also on Thursday, the influential Chinese tabloid Global Times said Washington “only wants to heighten the sanctions and military threats against Pyongyang.”

Seoul has fared little better, with China directing anger its way over South Korea’s deployment of the Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) anti-missile system. Beijing says THAAD threatens its own security, fearing that its powerful radar will see far into China, and will do nothing to bring North Korea back to talks.

“China is not too worried that the United States might suddenly attack North Korea. It is worried about THAAD,” said Sun Zhe, co-director of the China Initiative of Columbia University’s School of International and Public Affairs.

Wang Dong, associate professor of international studies at the elite Peking University, said China had tried hard to prevent the situation from getting out of control. He also said Trump’s domestic problems could play into the current crisis, referring to the US investigation into possible Russian meddling in last year’s presidential election.

“When facing increasingly difficult domestic problems, Trump might have an increasing incentive to do something. Maybe he initially would want a limited military conflict,” Wang said. “So people are certainly worried about that.”


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