Chinese officials have called for an easing of tensions on the Korean Peninsula, but have neither identified the North as an antagonist nor indicated they will pressure Pyongyang, which relies on China for fuel and food aid.
“No one should be allowed to throw a region and even the whole world into chaos for selfish gains,” President Xi Jinping told a regional forum on China’s Hainan island Sunday.
“With growing interaction among countries, it is inevitable that they encounter frictions here and there. What is important is that they should resolve differences through dialogue, consultation and peaceful negotiations,” Mr. Xi said, according to Beijing’s official media.
Retired military intelligence analyst John McCreary noted that noted Mr. Xi did not name North Korea, and his comments were not prominent in his speech but came “in the middle of a rambling paragraph on peace and development.”
The comment “promises no commitments,” said Mr. McCreary, who works for Kforce Government Solutions, an information technology firm. “It also may be understood as applying to countries other than North Korea.”
In a telephone call with U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon on Saturday, Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi expressed deep concerns in Beijing about the situation on the Korean Peninsula, according to a statement on his ministry’s website.
“He said that Beijing opposes any provocative words and actions from any party in the region and does not allow troublemaking at the doorsteps of China. China urges all the relevant parties to keep calm and restrained and help ease the tensions, Mr. Wang said,” the website reported.
Although the website offers “the clearest statement of Chinese displeasure at the tension in Northeast Asia,” Mr. McCreary said it does not suggest that one side or the other is more responsible for the crisis or has more to do to calm it.
Neither of the comments “singles out North Korea for criticism or blame for the tension,” he said. “Whatever China might be doing to exert pressure on North Korea, it is not telling the public.”
Meanwhile, China’s defense ministry confirmed Sunday that military forces near the border with North Korea conducted live-fire drills amid tensions between North Korea and the United States.
Beijing’s reluctance to pressure its ally may be due in part to the foreign policymaking role played by China’s military, which is largely responsible for the existence of North Korea, having committed 2 million men to turn back a U.S.-led U.N force during the Korean War.
“The logic of North Korea as a buffer still, I think, has currency within, particularly military circles in China,” Euan Graham, senior fellow at Nanyang Technological University in Singapore told Voice of America.
Many analysts consider that Beijing’s view of its own interests on the peninsula coincide with those of Pyongyang: Both parties’ top priority is to preserve the hereditary dictatorship of the Kim family.
Mr. Graham noted that North Korea is China’s only ally in East Asia: “I think there is an element that in a broader, strategic view, China is calibrating its strategy in the context of the U.S. rebalance to Asia. And although North Korea may be a recalcitrant and counterproductive ally, from many points of view, for Beijing it’s the only one it’s got.”