Last Saturday morning, local time, China’s President Xi Jinping convened senior officials to an emergency meeting that lasted 40 minutes at the Central National Security Commission in Zhongnanhai, Beijing.
The purpose of the meeting was to discuss North Korea’s launch of a second Inter-Continental Ballistic Missile in the dark of the previous night, and the subsequent announcement from President Moon Jae-in of South Korea that Seoul would be deploying four additional mobile launchers of its THAAD anti-missile system in response.
*** Beijing believes this North Korean launch, a mere one month on the heels of Supreme Leader Kim Jong-un’s first successful ICBM launch, was a “Hwasong-14” missile that, in theory, could cover the entirety of the United States. Chinese officials expect the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea to be able to establish an acceptably reliable ICBM before year-end, and estimate the DPRK could launch a nuclear-capable ICBM by sometime next year.
*** President Xi and the leadership in Beijing, however, still see no need to impose any severe new sanctions on North Korea in the near-future. China will support new statements of condemnation of the missile launch by the United Nations Security Council, but will not support any stronger sanctions the US might propose to the UNSC. China will stop exports of crude oil to North Korea before the winter, but will maintain normal economic and trade relations with Pyongyang otherwise.
*** Beijing continues to believe the real purpose of the DPRK’s flexing of military muscle – either through the ICBM launch or nuclear tests – is to bring Washington into direct talks, and believes Kim Jong-un is eager to engage in direct dialogue with the Trump administration. Despite assertions from the White House and Pentagon that all options are on the table, officials also note the US has made clear that diplomacy and sanctions are its preferred course.
And as “one of the two” most important parties to the six-party discussions over North Korea’s missile program, Beijing believes the US and DPRK should engage in direct dialogue.
Despite the provocations, South Korea’s Moon has also stressed a second Korean War can never be allowed. And so, while expecting the situation on the Korean peninsula to remain tense, Beijing believes the possibility of an imminent military conflict remains slim.
Xi is nevertheless reported to have warned of the danger to China’s security interests and the strategic balance of the region that is being posed by the deployment of the THAAD anti-missile system in South Korea.
For the record, China’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs will lodge official protests against the US and Republic of Korea over the deployment of the four additional mobile launchers of the THAAD. Xi is also reported to have reminded officials of China’s shared interests, and close cooperation, with Russia, and Russian President Vladimir Putin, on Korea, and on THAAD.