North Korea: China’s Response to the H-Bomb

Published on September 7, 2017

Sources from the Central National Security Commission (CNSC) of the Communist Party of China (CPC) familiar with President Xi Jinping’s communications on North Korea maintain the DPRK’s test last weekend of a hydrogen bomb was a choreographed, deliberate, and grave provocation of China, as well as of the international community at large.

*** On this occasion, from what we understand, Pyongyang alerted Beijing that is was going to conduct a nuclear test with less than 30 minutes to spare to detonation. In addition to catching the Chinese by surprise, that did not allow Beijing to in turn warn other “relevant countries” in time, through what appear to be previously used back-channels. Moscow, similarly, was also informed with less than 30 minutes to spare.

*** Chinese sources also believe the timing of the nuclear test – on the eve of the BRICS Summit in China and the Third Eastern Economic Forum in Russia with Xi scheduled to meet Russian President Vladimir Putin, Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, and South Korean President Moon Jae-in – was a deliberate effort by North Korea’s Kim Jong-Un to embarrass Beijing.

*** In the wake of the explosion, Xi and Putin met twice on Sunday in Xiamen to coordinate their respective countries’ response and positions on North Korea. President Donald Trump subsequently called Xi directly on the evening of September 6, Beijing time, to discuss the crisis in Korea and, according to Chinese sources, to enquire about China and Russia’s deliberations and joint position from the Xiamen meetings of four days before.

*** In this, the sixth direct call between the two leaders since Trump first called Xi on February 9 from the Oval Office, the President addressed Xi as “my good friend,” as he had in their previous call on August 12, and Xi delivered China and Russia’s joint position to Trump. The same message, as previously arranged between Xi and Putin, had also been delivered by Putin to Japan’s Abe and South Korea’s Moon at the sidelines of the Third Eastern Economic Forum on September 6-7 in Vladivostok. The points were as follows:

  1. China and Russia will never recognize North Korea as a nuclear state;
  2. China and Russia will agree to ban the export of any materials that could be related to the production of nuclear weapons to the DPRK;
  3. China and Russia will firmly support a strong condemnation of North Korea by the United Nations Security Council. But it is unclear if they will support the imposition of additional sanctions as currently proposed by United States Ambassador Nikki Haley, specifically on oil exports to Pyongyang;
  4. China and Russia reiterate their firm support for the goal of a de-nuclearized Korean peninsula, and at the same time oppose any military action against North Korea or attempts at regime change;
  5. The two countries demand the DPRK cease provocative actions that heighten tensions and they point out run counter to Pyongyang’s own interests, and have summoned the respective ambassadors to protest the nuclear test;
  6. China and Russia at the same time steadfastly oppose the deployment by the United States of the THAAD missile defense systems in South Korea. But in language that we interpret as a diplomatic acknowledgment of the realities on the ground, they “suggest” the relevant countries reverse the installations. Intelligence sources believe Beijing’s primary concern over the deployment of THAAD systems closer to the North Korean border is with the system’s powerful radar capacity to conduct surveillance deep into Chinese territory;
  7. Along those lines, China and Russia urge both the US and North Korea to consider China’s “double freeze” initiative.

For his part, President Trump is said to have told Xi that the Korean peninsula crisis cannot be resolved peacefully without China’s support. He assured Xi he does not advocate the use of force to solve the Korean problem, and that military force is not the first choice of the United States.

Trump then asked Xi to support the US proposal in the UNSC to impose an oil embargo on North Korea.  Xi told Trump China has in effect halted oil exports to North Korea already, temporarily, but indicated China will resume exports of oil to North Korea when the winter comes.

Chinese sources believe the latest test could represent a critical turning point for the crisis in Korea, and hope the US and DPRK engage in direct dialogue. While they concede Kim Jong-Un may have concluded he must have nuclear weapons lest he meet the fate of Libya’s Qaddafi and Iraq’s Saddam, they stress only dialogue can cure the crisis, and have offered assistance in creating opportunities for the US and DPRK to engage in direct dialogue.

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