Tensions are running high on the Korean Peninsula, and China is attempting to restore stability by pushing Washington to talk to Pyongyang.
The U.S. and South Korea are currently conducting joint military exercises, part of the annual Foal Eagle drill that started last week. North Korea fired four extended-range scud missiles into the Sea of Japan Monday. U.S. and South Korean forces are training for an armed conflict against the North, and the latter is preparing to counter.
In response to North Korea’s latest ballistic provocations, the U.S. began deploying a Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) anti-missile system to South Korea Tuesday. North Korean diplomats have said that the situation on the peninsula is escalating towards “war” and “nuclear disaster.”
Concerned about a crisis along its border, China has called for all sides to take a step back and restart negotiations.
“The two sides are like two accelerating trains coming towards each other,” Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi told reporters Wednesday in Beijing. “The question is: Are the two sides really ready for a head-on collision?”
“Our priority now is to flash the red light and apply brakes on both trains,” Wang explained, adding, “We have to walk on both legs, which means not just implementing sanctions but also restarting talks.”
“Nuclear weapons will not bring security,” he argued. “The use of force is no solution. Talks deserve another chance, and peace is still within our grasp.”
“To continue my railway metaphor, China will continue to be a switchman,” the foreign minister concluded. “We will switch the issue back onto the track of seeking a negotiated settlement.”
China opposes the deployment of THAAD and the joint military drills being carried out in South Korea.
“Maintaining the peace and stability of the Korean Peninsula and Northeast Asia accords with the interests of all sides and is all parties’ responsibility,” Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs spokesman Geng Shuang said in response to the joint drills.
“The present situation on the Korean Peninsula is highly complex and sensitive,” he added. “The relevant side should earnestly do more to help allay the situation on the Korean Peninsula and peace and stability in Northeast Asia, not the opposite.”
Following the deployment of THAAD to South Korea, the Chinese foreign ministry said that China will “definitely be taking necessary measures to safeguard our own security interest” and that “all consequences” resulting from the recent deployment will fall on the shoulders of the U.S. and South Korea.
China warns that the missile shield will bring about an arms race in Asia. “More missile shields of one side inevitably bring more nuclear missiles of the opposing side that can break through the missile shield,” the state-run Xinhua News Agency argued Tuesday, comparing THAAD to a new shield that will encourage the development of better spears.
“Clearly deploying THAAD is a wrong choice,” Wang said Wednesday.
China also opposes North Korea’s reckless behavior, specifically its pursuit of nuclear weapons.
In a separate Xinhua article, China told Pyongyang that it must “face the reality that it can neither thwart Washington and Seoul nor consolidate its security in a breeze with its immature nuclear technology.”
Wang proposed that both sides end their provocative behavior. He suggested the U.S. and South Korea end their joint military exercises in exchange for the suspension of North Korea’s nuclear activities.
It is unlikely, though, that there is anything North Korea will accept in exchange for deescalation.
The U.S. ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley said Wednesday said that “all options are on the table” when it comes to North Korea, but “we have to see some sort of positive action taken by North Korea before we can ever take them seriously.”
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