[Update: 7/17/2017] North Korea is still issuing threats. When the U.S. tested out their missile defense systems in Alaska last week, Kim Jung-un may as well have said “Keep it up kids.” North Korea doesn’t quite have the nuclear capabilities they wish they had, but that may not stop their leader from finally losing what little mental stability he has left and sending some chemical weapons our way.
Recent tensions between the United States and North Korea are coming to a head. China, the United States, and North Korea are mixed up in a three-way political cold war of sorts — one that some officials believe that could potentially result in further tensions between China and the United States at great detriment to America. According to a recent intelligence brief, China is putting bombers on “high alert” in response to the President sending warships to North Korea. North Korea, in turn has threatened to turn America’s mainland “to ashes” should America attack North Korea in any way.
But why would China, who has spoken out about North Korea’s nuclear access in the past, condemn the United States for taking action against it? The answer has to do with China’s economy and America’s poor history of U.S./North Korean negotiations.
China has good reason to fear America infiltrating North Korea; a breakdown in society would effectively result in thousands of refugees flocking to Beijing, the country’s capital. They would become effectively responsible for those refugees. Furthermore, China’s trade links with the North Korean government, though not substantial, are large enough to result in economic strife, at least temporarily.
The Chinese government clearly states that they do not support the U.S. Government’s attempts to enter North Korea. Military officials hold extreme concerns about America’s recent decision to deploy what is known as the Terminal High Altitude Area Defense, or THAAD, system. The system can effectively shoot down and disable enemy missiles from great distances, and would give the United States power over an attack from North Korea as well as China if it came to war.
President Trump has stated that he considers Beijing critical to resolving the tensions and uprising in North Korea. The capital city has such an intimate and close economic connection with North Korea that a breakdown in Pyongyang could instigate a ripple effect throughout the city, which could seriously damage its economy. Because Beijing is a trading point for Pyongyang and the rest of North Korea, it’s also where North Korea gets most of its food, tech products, and supplies. As is the case in war, cutting off critical trade points often makes it much more difficult for the target country to put up a fight at all.
President Xi Jinping, China’s current leader, is making strides to curb the behavior, too. But despite the fact that the American government almost always works closely with Beijing on issues related to North Korea, he has yet to agree to all of Trump’s requests.
The U.S. Military believes that by pressuring China and Beijing, they can encourage the country and President Xi Jinping to take action against North Korea, too. Trump, and many of his closest military advisers, all believe that China has yet to take a firm enough hand with North Korea. There is some credence to this; after all, North Korea is close enough to China to cause the country significant harm with nuclear weapons.
What’s happening, for the most part, is a see-sawing back and forth on the part of China in regard to North Korea. The country wants to aid the United States in stopping the threat of nuclear or missile-based war, but must also protect their own economic interests and security at the same time. It’s a ticking time bomb waiting to happen.
The United States has a lengthy history of negotiations with North Korea. Though they have pushed for changes in the past, the ultra-secretive country is well-known for subterfuge and outright falsification. Because they share a closer relationship with China, it may be more beneficial for China to approach them for negotiations than the United States.
Whether or not China is willing or able to do that, however, is up for debate.
Should China refuse to get involved, the United States Government will be forced to decide whether to continue pressuring China at risk to their own interests or whether to back off from the issue altogether. A rebuke from China with continued pressure could result in a declaration of war between the two countries, while refusing to tackle the issue of North Korea could place the U.S. in extreme danger of nuclear missiles.