China’s Foreign Minister Wang Yi and his Russian counterpart, Sergei Lavrov, have issued a joint statement in response to North Korea’s launch of an Intercontinental Ballistic Missile that is being pointedly referred to in Beijing as a reiteration of China’s previous demands for a “double suspension” – meaning it is directed jointly at both Pyongyang to suspend its missile and nuclear test programs and at the US and South Korea to refrain from large scale military exercises.
Furthermore, the joint statement did not just condemn North Korea, it also strongly opposed the US installation of the THAAD missile defense system in South Korea.
Despite this concerted, lukewarm response from Beijing and Moscow in light of the unprecedented nature of the North Korean missile launch (see this morning’s SGH 7/5/17, “China: Xi, Putin, Trump, and North Korea”), Chinese sources indicate Beijing will support a UN Security Council statement of condemnation against Pyongyang.
Furthermore, from what we understand, Xi has ordered the following limited actions against North Korea:
1 – The withdrawal of about 20 Chinese information engineering experts working in Pyongyang by July 15;
2 – A halt to the export of large civilian trucks to North Korea, as these can be converted to military purposes;
3 – A temporary reduction in trade volume by Chinese State Owned Enterprises with North Korea;
4 – The continued suspension of coal imports from North Korea by Chinese SOEs, and;
5 – A temporary halt to crude oil exports to North Korea, before winter sets in.
On the last point, Chinese officials note that even while China suspends oil exports to North Korea, Russia has committed exports of crude, as well as refined, oil to the regime of Kim Jong-Un.
Chinese officials believe the ICBM launch was timed by Kim Jong-Un for the G20 summit in Hamburg, in order to attract worldwide attention and recognition of North Korea’s missile technology and deterrence, to force the US to engage in direct dialogue with North Korea, and to enlist Beijing and Moscow to press Washington to refrain from large scale military exercises on the Korean peninsula. Those goals, to some extent, have been achieved already.
While the launch has, and will, once again escalate tensions on the Korean peninsula, Chinese officials believe the possibility of direct military conflict between the US-Republic of Korea and the DPRK, North Korea, is still very slim.