It is rare that top Beijing officials say something many people outside China can agree with, but Minister of Foreign Affairs Wang Yi (王毅) was spot-on yesterday with his comment that there would be no winners in an armed conflict between the US and North Korea over Pyongyang’s nuclear program and missile tests.
Wang was not the only top official voicing concerns yesterday about escalating tensions in East Asia. Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe said “the security environment surrounding Japan is getting tougher” and the North Korean situation “is getting more serious,” while the Kremlin called for “restraint” and warned against “provocative steps.”
The jitteriness over the ever-unpredictable North Korean leader Kim Jong-un has been growing daily over the past week, ahead of today’s “Day of the Sun” in the North, which marks the 105th anniversary of the birth of Kim’s grandfather and the nation’s founder, Kim Il-sung.
The fear is that the grandson will use the anniversary to order yet another missile test, or the nation’s sixth nuclear test, since he has promised “a big day.”
Or Pyongyang could just stage another massive military parade to showcase its hardware; no one knows because Kim Jong-un is even more unpredictable than his father was.
The problem is that someone just as volatile now occupies the White House in Washington and the younger Kim can no longer assume the US will follow the same diplomatic path it has in response to aggressive actions from Pyongyang as it did in his father’s time, or even just two or three years ago.
The Pentagon sent a strike group led by the aircraft carrier USS Carl Vinson to the Korean Peninsula last week, after Pyongyang test-fired another missile on April 5.
When, two days later, US President Donald Trump ordered a hit on Syria by dozens of Tomahawk cruise missiles, in response to a chemical weapons attack blamed on the Syrian government, this took most people by surprise, including his supporters, his critics, US allies and, most of all, Chinese President Xi Jinping (習近平), who had arrived in Florida for talks with Trump just hours earlier.
Then, on Thursday night, the US dropped its most powerful non-nuclear bomb on an Islamic State target in Afghanistan.
In poker terms, Trump saw Kim Jong-un’s wild man card and raised him.
The trouble is that the ever-paranoid North Korean regime has never behaved rationally or responsibly, and for years has seen a potential US invasion under every rock, so any warnings or cautions from Washington are met with hysteria in Pyongyang.
The Kims have also long been able to count on Beijing and, to a lesser extent Moscow, to watch their back and buffer them from the extreme consequences of their actions.
However, it appears that Beijing might finally be fed up with the Kims’ antics and have started to realize that it has to take tough steps to show Pyongyang that China’s patience and support is not unlimited.
For decades, Beijing’s foreign policy has been predicated on “non-interference” in the affairs of other states — at least that is the party line.
However, on Feb. 19, China announced it would stop importing coal from North Korea in line with UN sanctions, thereby cutting off a key source of foreign exchange for Pyongyang, and this week China said that it might severely curtail its Chinese oil exports to North Korea, something that it has long fought vigorously in the UN Security Council.
Will these two steps be enough to temper the young Kim’s actions? No one knows, and Taiwan, like other nations, can only watch and wait.
Yet if China wants to be recognized as a major player on the world stage, it is long past time that it starts acting responsibly and stops propping up the Pyongyang regime.