China state-run media has potentially offered insight into how China might behave in the event of a renewed conflict on the Korean Peninsula.
China and North Korea are allies, but Beijing has grown frustrated with its old friend as the latter has become more of a liability than a useful asset. At the same time, China is determined to prevent the U.S. and its allies from massing troops and storming the peninsula in an assault on North Korea, possibly by force if that proves necessary.
“The memory of the hot-fighting of the Korean War is still very vivid for Chinese decision makers,” Dr. Nicholas Eberstadt, an international security expert at the American Enterprise Institute, told the Daily Caller News Foundation. “But, national security always comes first.”
China “will firmly resist any side which wants to change the status quo of the areas where China’s interests are concerned,” an editorial in the state-run Global Times, an affiliate of the People’s Daily but not an official mouthpiece for the Chinese government, said Friday.
“China should also make clear that if North Korea launches missiles that threaten U.S. soil first and the U.S. retaliates, China will stay neutral,” the article explained, signaling to Pyongyang that if the North decides to launch an attack on the U.S., Pyongyang will be on its own in the ensuing fight against Washington and its allies.
But, then the article turned its attention to the U.S.
“If the US and South Korea carry out strikes and try to overthrow the North Korean regime and change the political pattern of the Korean Peninsula, China will prevent them from doing so,” the article said, leaving readers guessing as to the exact meaning of “prevent them from doing so” and what that might entail.
Looking at history, there is evidence that suggests the article is referring to the possibility of a shooting war against the U.S. and its allies.
When it comes to a war in North Korea, China has always had four options. One, China can sit on the sidelines. Two, China can join the U.S. and its allies to topple the regime. Three, China can join North Korea against the U.S. and its allies. Four, China can rush in and pursue its own objectives, which could potentially involve overthrowing the regime but preventing the U.S. and its allies from establishing a democratic North Korea on China’s border. There are undoubtedly variations of each of these options, but these are China’s choices.
“You could imagine scenarios in which any of those could happen,” Eberstadt explained to TheDCNF.
Were China to choose to wage war against the U.S. in response to preemptive strike on North Korea, China would be forced to pay an extremely high cost, likely much higher than anything the U.S. would be forced to pay.
“Blood is a big expense. That goes double for China,” Eberstadt remarked. “The exposure of the Chinese economy in any kind of risky scenario like this is absolutely immense … The financial and economic equities that would be at stake for China in any sort of risky situation are truly daunting.”
The losses for China militarily, economically, and politically would be far worse than any negative outcomes experienced by the U.S., a RAND Corporation report on the possible outcomes of a military conflict between the U.S. and China published last year explained.
“If war is triggered, we will have greater determination than the U.S. to fight it to the end, and we can endure more losses than the U.S.,” the Global Times wrote in response to the report. This line of thinking is not new for China. “China should be willing to sacrifice every city east of Xi’an” in a conflict with the U.S., Zhu Chenghu, a PLA officer, said in 2012.
The recent editorial in the Global Times comes during an escalating war of words between North Korea and the U.S.
North Korea revealed this week that it is considering launching four intermediate-range ballistic missiles into waters around Guam, home to numerous U.S. strategic military assets and more than 100,000 civilians, in a show of force for President Donald Trump.
“North Korea best not make any more threats to the United States,” Trump announced to reporters Tuesday. “They will be met with the fire and fury like the world has never seen. He has been very threatening beyond a normal state, and as I said, they will be met with the fire and fury and, frankly, power the likes of which this world has never seen before.”
“I will tell you this, if North Korea does anything in terms of even thinking about attack of anybody that we love or we represent or our allies or us, they can be very, very nervous,” he explained Thursday. “They should be very nervous. Things will happen to them like they never thought possible.”
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