Beijing has long been the great question mark on the Korean Peninsula. At times, China has shown that it will only support North Korea to a certain extent. At other times, China seems prepared to defend Pyongyang to the death.
According to Reuters, in the wake of North Korea’s most recent missile test, the People’s Liberation Army Air Force conducted military exercises that prepared its forces to defend North Korea from a surprise attack coming from the sea.
These exercises included an anti-aircraft defense battalion near the Bohai Sea. The Bohai Sea is the innermost gulf that separates China and North Korea via the Yellow (Yalu) River.
The exercise included troops from central China, who drilled to make sure that they could defend China and North Korea from any surprise attacks from the US or South Korea.
According to a Chinese military website, “The troops’ rapid response capabilities and actual combat levels have effectively been tested.”
China has long denounced military exercises conducted by South Korea and the United States on the Korean Peninsula. These criticisms have grown in the wake of the Trump administration’s decision to send heavy armaments to Seoul.
According to Politico, President Trump wrote this week that, “I am allowing Japan & South Korea to buy a substantially increased amount of highly sophisticated military equipment from the United States.” These weapons include the THAAD missile defense system, which has already been deployed to South Korea’s border with the North.
Japan is also building up its own missile defense systems in preparation for North Korea’s continued testing and deployment of ICBM missiles.
Russian President Vladimir Putin, whose government continues to trade with the “Hermit Kingdom,” warned President Trump and the leaders of Japan and South Korea that North Korea will not submit to international control.
Putin told the Associated Press: “They would rather eat grass but will not give up the [nuclear] program if they do not feel safe.” Putin further clarified that threats of war are destabilizing the world. “It could cause a global catastrophe and an enormous loss of life.”
Putin is entirely right that a shooting war with North Korea would be devastating. Given that China’s air force has begun conducting drills in defense of their lone ally in northeastern Asia, there now is the possibility that the world’s largest military could get involved in a conflict to save the world’s most backward state.
There is also a logic to Putin’s warning about North Korea’s nuclear weapons industry. After all, Libya, Syria, and Iraq were all once anti-American nations with nuclear ambitions. All three of those countries have experienced regime change, or have attempted regime change.
China has, for generations, served as the protective force behind North Korea’s rhetoric. Does China’s support of Kim Jong-un embolden his pursuit of nuclear weapons?
On the opposite end of things, President Trump is correct that China and South Korea have both given North Korea far too much space to expand its nuclear arsenal. The US, and its allies, may have already passed the point of no return — wherein a nuclear-armed North Korea has to be tolerated.
At this point, the major question facing the US government is this: is a war in North Korea really in America’s best interest?