Beijing (GPA) – As the US floats multiple proposals for possible military solutions to the North Korean “problem,”, officials in China are calling to restore the seemingly dead strategy of diplomacy.
The second highest ranking leader in China hosted his yearly press conference today and used the opportunity to call on the US to pursue diplomatic solutions to several areas of tension in the Asia Pacific region. Among discussion of issues such as tension in the South China Sea and Trump’s proposed global trade war, Chinese premier Li Keqiang also warned of the potential catastrophe of an armed conflict breaking out on the Korean Peninsula.
Li cautioned the US that their escalation and military buildup on the Korean Peninsula and their proposals for violent actions against Pyongyang “would only bring harm to all parties involved,” and voiced his hope that instead, “all parties can work together” on reducing tensions.
Li said that China is also committed to denuclearization of the peninsula. Li was confident that this outcome could be reached via the novel strategy of diplomacy rather than war and invited all of Pyongyang’s adversaries (the US, Japan and South Korea) to open a dialogue.
It’s likely that when leak speaks of the peninsula drawing down the presence of weapons in both Koreas, he will also mean the removal of newly installed US missile defense systems installed in the south. The Terminal High-Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) system he caused problems recently between the US and both China and Russia who feel the system could be used to infringe on their right to self defense.
Li’s proposition comes at the US prepares for the annual Foal Eagle joint military exercises with South Korean forces. Certain aspects of the drills have been made public, including the participation of the infamous US hit squad, SEAL team six for the first time, who will be carrying out “decapitation drills.” The decapitation drills are made to simulate removing the heads of the North Korean government by way of special operations assassination.
The US has of course also deployed the aforementioned missile battery and has also announced that a fleet of drones will be stationed near the border of the two Koreas. The ‘Gray Eagle’ drones are capable of being equipped with hellfire missiles, although the US has not yet disclosed if they’ll be armed. A US aircraft carrier will also be in the area for the drills.
Predictably, Pyongyang has responded with suspicion and a stern warning that they would react with “merciless ultra-precision strikes” if they feel their sovereignty is violated.
Li reminded the west that China was already doing their part to assist the international community in applying pressure to North Korea, saying China had willingly “fully complied” with the international sanctions on Pyongyang. China suspended the imports of North Korean coal after one of the recent ballistic missile tests, cutting off a major source of revenue to Pyongyang.
The last disarmament talks were held in 2009 when North Korea stopped participating. Last week Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi proposed the idea of suspending the US drills to possibly convince Pyongyang to suspend missile testing, saying “This suspension-for-suspension can help us break out of the security dilemma and bring the parties back to the negotiating table.”
Wang said the current situation looked like “two accelerating trains, coming toward each other with neither side willing to give way.” Wang felt that China’s “priority now is to flash the red light and apply the brakes on both trains.”
This comes as the South Korean president has resigned amid a massive corruption scandal and her likely replacement will be a member of the liberal opposition party. The current front runner for the South Korean presidency, Moon Jae-in was an aide to the former president Roh Moo-hyun, who advocated the “sunshine policy” of open dialogue and diplomacy between Seoul and Pyongyang. While Moon doesn’t believe in the legitimacy of the North Korean government, and does support reunification of the peninsula, his proposal to return to the sunshine policy is still less militant than the last nine years of conservative rule.
China is of course the key ally of North Korea and while the two nations have many differences, it is in China’s interest that the nation remain friendly to Beijing as an effective buffer between the massive US military presence in the south and their borders. Beyond this it’s also obvious that it’s in the best interest of not just China but the region and world as a whole to avoid a military solution to the conflict between the two Koreas.