Will China be the saviour of the imminent US-North Korea war?

Published: May 3, 2017

Jong-Un has matched Trump’s rhetoric that should the US attack his country, he might order his own pre-emptive nuclear attack with disastrous consequences.

The latest missile test that was launched by North Korea came at a tumultuous time. The United States (US) had warned North Korea that it will face grave consequences if it were to go ahead with a nuclear or missile test. In an apparent disregard to both to the US and the United Nations (UN), North Korea went ahead with its ballistic missile test. The fact that the missile exploded during take-off last Saturday is another story altogether.  

There is an imminent danger of the US launching a surgical strike on North Korea as it has refused to bow down to threats. It should be credited to Donald Trump that he has so far ceased from attacking North Korea in the hopes that China will be able to influence its neighbour into freezing its nuclear programme.

It appears that the Korean leader Kim Jong-Un, who is an egotist, paranoid, unstable and impetuous leader, has refused to listen to the counsel of the Chinese leaders. He is under the false belief that the possession of nuclear warheads and missiles would deter the US from launching any attack on his country. He has also sent out a warning that North Korea will launch a pre-emptive strike on the US if it dares to attack them.

It is true that the North Koreans are no match for the military strength of the US, but the most dangerous prospect of an attack on North Korea may force Jong-Un to launch a nuclear attack on South Korea. It is this prospect that has so far tied the US’s hands.

Moreover, one must realise that North Korea is no IraqSyria or Afghanistan. It possesses nuclear weapons; it has developed knowledge of the intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM), which it plans to test soon. According to sources, North Korea has developed Taepodong-2, a long-range missile which can hit over a range of 8,000 kilometres, a distance that could put some US cities in grave danger. However, it is too risky to call North Korea’s bluff.

The only way forward is for the US to diffuse the already charged atmosphere in the region by putting pressure on China. Although Trump had initially criticised China for the trade imbalance and for not playing a positive role in ending the Korean crisis, things have taken a turn. After Trump met President Xi Jinping, there is an appreciation for the Chinese position from his end. The Chinese president has tirelessly worked to draw out tensions by being in constant touch with Trump.

Jinping has so far refrained from threatening North Korea with economic sanctions because China has been using North Korea as a buffer to counter the US hegemony in the region. China has already expressed its unhappiness over the deployment of the anti-ballistic missile system, US Terminal High Altitude Area Defence (THAAD), in South Korea. Moreover, as 80% of North Korea’s trade comes from China, and if China decides to impose economic sanctions like cutting of oil supply, it may severely impact the North Korean economy. This is the leverage China should use to force the hands of North Korea. In the past, China has advised the North Korean leader not to divert its precious resources in developing its nuclear programme, and instead to spend wisely on the well-being of its citizens, but this advice had fallen upon deaf ears.

It now lies in China’s hands to adopt an assertive approach (the threat of economic sanctions) if North Korea does not agree to a transparent ‘denuclearisation’ programme.

Jong-Un is using the nuclear programme to legitimise his leadership over his people. Furthermore, he probably suffers from the misconception that the possession of nuclear weapons would ultimately guarantee the safety of his country. He has so far ignored the prospect of his country being obliterated if the US does carry out its threat. Jong-Un has matched Trump’s rhetoric that should the US attack his country, he might order his own pre-emptive nuclear attack with disastrous consequences. With all his false bravado, Jong-Un knows that if China decides to cut off trade ties, his economy will come crashing down.

If China does decide to exert its influence, as a reciprocal measure, the US should immediately stop the supply of THAAD missiles to South Korea. This will create a positive influence on China. It is because of US’s role in South Korea that China has been using North Korea as a buffer in the peninsula. Moreover, China is also uncomfortable with over 30,000 US troops stationed in South Korea.

In conclusion, the only country that has any semblance of influence over Jong-Un is China. Moreover, with Jinping and Trump’s successful meeting, China can play a major role in diffusing tensions. For this, the US should allay China’s fear by avoiding a confrontational approach and instead partner with it to bring peace and stability in the region. A tall task, but China has the capability to influence North Korea.

K S Venkatachalam

K S Venkatachalam

The author is an independent journalist and political commentator. He specialises in writing on political, social and economic issues. His articles have appeared in many Indian and International newspapers like Huffington Post, Global Times, South China Morning Post, The Hindu. He tweets as @Venkat48 (twitter.com/venkat48)

The views expressed by the writer and the reader comments do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of The Express Tribune.

  • Eddied

    it is irresponsible journalism to report that a war is “imminent”…it is simply NOT TRUE…this is just sensationalism….Recommend

  • Parvez

    ….. imminent US – North Korea war ? I lost interest after reading the title .Recommend

  • Rex Minor

    the author has written a hypothesis with the aid of a number of assumptions without having the knowledge about the psyche of koreans or chinese or their relationship. The Chinese will do none of the actions demanded by the Trumpers leavig their actions to consider the consequences. North Korea has a sizeable force of nuclear deterrence against a potential aggressor and has declared to use it too leaving it to the Trumpers to make a move. The Chinese will not compel North Korea to accept the hegemony of the Americans in the region. These are facts and not any fake news. There are high stakes and I would not be the first to call others bluff.

    Rex MinorRecommend

  • numbersnumbers

    China has brought this situation on all by itself by not preventing North Korea from developing nuclear weapons and ICBMs to threaten the world with!


  • Rex Minor

    I did not miss the rants from the North Koreans outfit or the Yanks nor overlooked the provocative visit of the Pense on the dividing line as well as the regular joint military exercises of the South koreans with the USA military occupying force. The Trumpers with their second flotilla cannot cowed down the young Kim who has been indoctrinated by the Mao philosophy, regarding Americans as the paper tiger.

    Rex MinorRecommend

  • Rex Minor

    The chinese are not the world police man and prefer North Koreans self reliance to counter American hegemony in the korean peninsula and the south china sea. Remember, all major armies of the world are being used to not only defend their people but to expand their hegemony on people of smaller countries whereas the armies of smaller countries simply defend their territory from occupation by the aliens. North korea belongs to the latter.

    Rex MinorRecommend

  • Rex Minor

    NK does not have and atomic delivery weapon.

    It is nothing but a speculation. The North Koreans have indeed the nuclear weaponry and the delivery missiles which they will only unleashA as a last resort, since the USA is one of few to take the hit and respond too. It is nothing but a contest of nerves which North Korea is not prepared for blackmail.

    Rex Minor.Recommend

  • Zubair Khan

    But I still maintain NK has yet not developed delivery weapon for Nukes. They are trying their best but yet not successful.Recommend