North Korea: Beijing acts tougher over missile launch

Even before China joined all other members of the United Nations Security Council to condemn the latest show of missile bravado, the Chinese leadership had been preparing for this vote to indicate that their patience is also running out with North Korea. The Chinese leadership met to discuss North Korea’s launch of a second Inter-Continental Ballistic Missile in the dark of the previous night, and the subsequent announcement from President Moon Jae-in of South Korea that Seoul would be deploying four additional mobile launchers of its THAAD anti-missile system in response.

Beijing believes this North Korean launch, a mere one month on the heels of Supreme Leader Kim Jong-un’s first successful ICBM launch, was a “Hwasong-14” missile that, in theory, could cover the entirety of the United States. Chinese officials expect the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea to be able to establish an acceptably reliable ICBM before year-end, and estimate the DPRK could launch a nuclear-capable ICBM by sometime next year. While the initial Chinese view was that they still see no need to impose any severe new sanctions on North Korea in the near future.

The final unanimous Security Council vote on sanctions was wide sweeping to include banning Importing coal, seafood, iron and iron ore, lead and lead ore from North Korea, countries cannot receive new North Korean workers, no new joint ventures with North Korean entities or individuals, no new investment in existing joint ventures and more individuals targeted with travel bans and assets freezes. This has prompted an enraged North Korean vow to respond a ‘thousand times ‘ more harshly against the USA. 

Dialogue 

However, while China supported new statements of condemnation of the missile launch by the United Nations Security Council, it still believes in a peaceful outcome and dialogue. Beijing continues to believe the real purpose of the DPRK’s flexing of military muscle – either through the ICBM launch or nuclear tests – is to bring Washington into direct talks, and believes Kim Jong-un is eager to engage in direct dialogue with the Trump administration. Despite assertions from the White House and Pentagon that all options are on the table, officials also note the US has made clear that diplomacy and sanctions are its preferred course and that regime change is not their goal. As “one of the two” most important parties to the six-party discussions over North Korea’s missile program, Beijing believes the US and DPRK should engage in direct dialogue. 

Despite assertions that all options are on the table, officials also note the US has made clear that regime change is not their goal

Dr. Mohamed A. Ramady



Despite the provocations, South Korea’s Moon has also stressed a second Korean War can never be allowed and the South Koreans have signalled their continued interest to start a dialogue, which was rebuffed as being ‘insincere’ by the North, bearing in mind what some US commentators have said that in the event of any military conflict on the Korean Peninsular "thousand of Koreans will die out there but no Americans will die over here”. This of course ignores how the thousands of US troops stationed in South Korea will somehow all miraculously escape unhurt in a North – South Armageddon.

Slim prospect of conflict 

And so, while expecting the situation on the Korean peninsula to remain tense, Beijing believes the possibility of an imminent military conflict remains slim. Xi is nevertheless reported to have warned of the danger to China’s security interests and the strategic balance of the region that is being posed by the deployment of the THAAD anti-missile system in South Korea. China’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs lodged official protests against the US and Republic of Korea over the deployment of the four additional mobile launchers of the THAAD. Xi is also reported to have reminded officials of China’s shared interests, and close cooperation, with Russia, and Russian President Vladimir Putin, on Korea, and on THAAD , and this issue was brought up by both China and Russia during the UNSecurity Council vote.

Given that the North Korean leader has had his moment in the global limelight which he so desperately craves, let us hope that the unanimous world condemnation brings him to his senses, that even his closest friends have now said enough is enough as the consequences of matters unravelling will have grave human and economic consequences far beyond Korean shores, including the Gulf’s growing economic ties to the region.

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Dr. Mohamed Ramady is an energy economist and geo political expert on the GCC and former Professor at King Fahd University of Petroleum and Minerals, Dhahran, Saudi Arabia.

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Last Update: Wednesday, 20 May 2020 KSA 09:51 - GMT 06:51
Disclaimer: Views expressed by writers in this section are their own and do not reflect Al Arabiya English's point-of-view.
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