Home Contact Us  

China - Articles

Print Bookmark Email Facebook Subscribe
#5273, 19 April 2017

Strategic Space

US-North Korea Military Swashbuckling and China's Role
Manpreet Sethi
Senior Fellow and Project Leader, Nuclear Security, Centre for Air Power Studies (CAPS), New Delhi

Temperatures are high all across India, but this is a normal seasonal phenomenon. Far more worrisome is the soaring of temperatures between the US, North Korea and China. The military swashbuckling currently under way between the US and North Korea is of a kind that has not been seen in a long time. President Trump has indicated the end of his “strategic patience” with the North Korean actions that he sees as provocations. But not one to be cowed down, Kim Jong-un has had Choe Ryong Hae, his close military associate, boldly state, “We will respond to an all-out war with an all-out war and a nuclear war with our style of a nuclear attack.” To put adequate punch into his bluster, he celebrated the 105th anniversary of his grandfather by putting on parade a panoply of the country’s missile force. Thankfully, he did not conduct a sixth nuclear weapon test, and the missile test that he did choose to conduct, failed.

Every time US-North Korea relations flare up (and it happens regularly at this time of year since the US and South Korea hold their joint annual military drills in the region that are perceived as provocative by Pyongyang and which it responds to with its own actions), it draws attention to the role of China. The US has long expressed its belief that China can and must play a key role in counselling North Korea since Beijing is the only major economic underwriter and diplomatic supporter of Pyongyang. It is surprising though that Washington reposes such faith in China to resolve the issue for the US given that their own rivalry provides little incentive for Beijing to undertake tasks that smoothen the ride for the US in Asia. In fact, till such time as China felt it could effectively use Pyongyang to calibrate tensions with the US, it was all good. But Kim Jong-un has managed to cock a snook at Beijing through some of his recent actions that have shown up the limits of Chinese influence on the state. This has been disconcerting for China. Meanwhile, President Trump has taken a more hard-line position on North Korea that appears far less sensitive to the implications that his actions, including military ones, might have for China.

Consequently, for a change, China appears to be in the hot seat in this muddle, trying to settle frayed tempers on both sides. China’s Foreign Minister Wang Yi urged both parties to “refrain from inflammatory or threatening statements or deeds to prevent irreversible damage to the situation on the Korean peninsula.” The fact that President Trump chose to send nearly five dozen Tomahawk missiles to Syria while Premier Xi Jinping was his guest was certainly an action with messages for many quarters. His resolve to take hard, military decisions was well evident, even if the actual damage on the ground was, intentionally or unintentionally, quite limited. China has expressed its support for dialogue and has called upon both sides to stop provoking and threatening each other. It has also shown greater inclination to use some of the leverages it still has with the country especially on coal imports. President Trump’s resolve to do something about the situation, whether with Chinese support or not, appears to have shaken up Beijing to become more proactive so as to avoid a situation that could be severely adverse to it.

Undoubtedly, it would be in the interest of all stakeholders if a political solution could be found to the problem with some sort of negotiation in the Six-party talks format. The experience of multilateral diplomacy with Iran has been a positive one. But then, North Korea is a different kettle of fish and all other parties too do not have particularly cordial relations with one another. From one perspective, the talks could provide a common platform to address some of the misgivings and also build mutual trust and confidence amongst the parties. From another perspective, however, to get the process going, given the political reality of the moment, will be a huge task in itself.

One major problem appears to be the precondition of North Korean denuclearisation that US has set for negotiations. This is unrealistic and unrealisable. It may be an outcome, if at all ever, that might come about after a process of mutual trust and security-building. However, it cannot be the starting point to get Kim Jong-un to the negotiating table. Given the bitter history of hostility between Washington and Pyongyang, this may be the moment for China to rise to the occasion and play a constructive role. Having been an active party in the creation of a nuclear North Korea, which seems to have now acquired a mind of its own, it would be equally important for China’s own security to rein it in through a web of measures acceptable to all sides.

For the moment though, two unpredictable leaders appear to be engaged in a game of chicken. This certainly has its risks, not least from inadvertent escalation as a result of incidents or accidents between any of the parties involved. It rests upon all the stakeholders to explore possible solutions to a problem that has persisted for nearly a quarter of a century.

Print Bookmark Email Facebook Subscribe
IPCS Columnists
Af-Pak Diary
D Suba Chandran
Resetting Kabul-Islamabad Relations: Three Key Issues
Can Pakistan Reset its Relations with Afghanistan?
The New Afghanistan: Four Major Challenges for President Ghani
Big Picture
Prof Varun Sahni
Understanding Democracy and Diversity in J&K
When Xi Met Modi: Juxtaposing China and India
Pakistan?s Tactical Nuclear Weapons: The Inevitability of Instability

Dateline Colombo

Asanga Abeyagoonasekera.
Sri Lanka: Moving Towards a Higher Collective Outcome
The Importance of Electing the Best to our Nation's Parliament
Sri Lanka: Toward a Diaspora Re-Engagement Plan
Dateline Islamabad
Salma Malik
Pakistan's Hurt Locker: What Next?
IPCS Forecast: Pakistan in 2015
India-Pakistan Relations in 2015: Through a Looking Glass
Dhaka Discourse
Prof Delwar Hossain
IPCS Forecast: Bangladesh in 2015
18th SAARC Summit: A Perspective from Bangladesh
Bangladesh in Global Forums: Diplomacy vs. Domestic Politics
Eagle Eye
Prof Chintamani Mahapatra
India-US: Significance of the Second Modi-Obama Meet
Has President Obama Turned Lame Duck?
Modi-Obama Summit: Criticism for Criticism?s Sake?

East Asia Compass
Dr Sandip Mishra
India-Japan-US Trilateral: India?s Policy for the Indo-Pacific
China-South Korea Ties: Implications for the US Pivot to Asia
Many ?Pivots to Asia?: What Does It Mean For Regional Stability?
Himalayan Frontier
Pramod Jaiswal
Nepal?s New Constitution: Instrument towards Peace or Catalyst to Conflict?
IPCS Forecast: Nepal in 2015
Constitution-making: Will Nepal Miss its Second Deadline?

Prof Shankari Sundararaman
IPCS Forecast: Southeast Asia in 2015
Indonesia's Pacific Identity: What Jakarta Must Do in West Papua
Modi in Myanmar: From ?Look East? to ?Act East?
Sushant Sareen
IPCS Forecast: Pakistan in 2015
Islamic State: Prospects in Pakistan
Pakistan: The Futility of Internationalising Kashmir

Looking East
Wasbir Hussain
Myanmar in New Delhi's Naga Riddle
China: ?Peaceful? Display of Military Might
Naga Peace Accord: Need to Reserve Euphoria
Maritime Matters
Vijay Sakhuja
Indian Ocean: Modi on a Maritime Pilgrimage
Indian Ocean: Exploring Maritime Domain Awareness
IPCS Forecast: The Indian Ocean in 2015

Nuke Street
Amb Sheelkant Sharma
US-Russia and Global Nuclear Security: Under a Frosty Spell?
India's Nuclear Capable Cruise Missile: The Nirbhay Test
India-Australia Nuclear Agreement: Bespeaking of a New Age
Red Affairs
Bibhu Prasad
Countering Left Wing Extremism: Failures within Successes
Return of the Native: CPI-Maoist in Kerala
The Rising Civilian Costs of the State-Vs-Extremists Conflict

Regional Economy
Amita Batra
India and the APEC
IPCS Forecast: South Asian Regional Integration
South Asia: Rupee Regionalisation and Intra-regional Trade Enhancement
South Asian Dialectic
PR Chari
Resuming the Indo-Pak Dialogue: Evolving a New Focus
Defence Management in India: An Agenda for Parrikar
Pakistani Taliban and Al Qaeda in Afghanistan: Implications for Asian Security

Spotlight West Asia
Amb Ranjit Gupta
Prime Minister Modi Finally Begins His Interaction with West Asia*
A Potential Indian Role in West Asia?
US-GCC Summit: More Hype than Substance
Strategic Space
Manpreet Sethi
India-Russia Nuclear Vision Statement: See that it Delivers
Global Nuclear Disarmament: The Humanitarian Consequences Route
Nasr: Dangers of Pakistan's Short Range Ballistic Missile

The Strategist
Vice Admiral Vijay Shankar
Jihadi Aggression and Nuclear Deterrence
The Blight of Ambiguity
Falun Gong: The Fear Within

OTHER REGULAR contributors
Gurmeet Kanwal
Harun ur Rashid
N Manoharan
Wasbir Hussain
Rana Banerji
N Manoharan

Ruhee Neog
Teshu Singh
Aparupa Bhattacherjee
Roomana Hukil
Aparupa Bhattacherjee


Browse by Publications

Issue Briefs 
Special Reports 
Research Papers 
Seminar Reports 
Conference Reports 

Browse by Region/Countries

East Asia 
South Asia 
Southeast Asia 
US & South Asia 

Browse by Issues

India & the world  
Naxalite Violence 
Suicide Terrorism 
Peace & Conflict Database 
Article by same Author
India-EU Partnership for Non-Proliferation: Challenges and Opportunities

‘Gas Chamber’ Cities and Dangers Nuclear

Meaningful Disarmament, Not Unnecessary Distractions

The Bomb Banned: By and For the NNWS, For Now

Stabilising Deterrence: Doctrines Score Over Numbers

Chinese Responsibility on DPRK: No ‘Theory’, Immutable Reality

Indian Nuclear Policy and Diplomacy

New NPR: Can It Break New Ground?

Nuclear Ban Treaty Conference and Universal Nuclear Disarmament

Forecast 2017: Unclear Nuclear Pathways

Limits of Practising Nuclear Brinksmanship

Presidential Elections and US Nuclear Policy: Clinton Vs Trump

Preparing for Radiological Emergencies and Terrorism

Motivating Pakistan to Prevent Cross–Border Terrorism: With a Little Help from Friends

JCPOA’s First Anniversary: Significance and Future Challenges

Entry into the NSG: Getting Past the Doorman

Same Age, Different Behaviour: Nuclear India and Nuclear Pakistan

Nuclear Security Summit Process: Progress and Prognosis

Pak's Nuclear 'Normality' through External Deals: Chasing a Chimera

Forecast 2016: Nuclear Issues That Will Dominate the Year

India-Russia Nuclear Vision Statement: See that it Delivers

Global Nuclear Disarmament: The Humanitarian Consequences Route

Nasr: Dangers of Pakistan's Short Range Ballistic Missile

Uranium and Nuclear Power: Three Indian Stories

A Strategic Review for India

Y! MyWeb
Print Bookmark Email Facebook Subscribe
Year 2018
 January  February
 2017  2016  2015  2014  2013  2012  2011  2010
 2009  2008  2007  2006  2005  2004  2003  2002
 2001  2000  1999  1998  1997

The Institute of Peace and Conflict Studies (IPCS) is the premier South Asian think tank which conducts independent research on and provides an in depth analysis of conventional and non-conventional issues related to national and South Asian security including nuclear issues, disarmament, non-proliferation, weapons of mass destruction, the war on terrorism, counter terrorism , strategies security sector reforms, and armed conflict and peace processes in the region.

For those in South Asia and elsewhere, the IPCS website provides a comprehensive analysis of the happenings within India with a special focus on Jammu and Kashmir and Naxalite Violence. Our research promotes greater understanding of India's foreign policy especially India-China relations, India's relations with SAARC countries and South East Asia.

Through close interaction with leading strategic thinkers, former members of the Indian Administrative Service, the Foreign Service and the three wings of the Armed Forces - the Indian Army, Indian Navy, and Indian Air Force, - the academic community as well as the media, the IPCS has contributed considerably to the strategic discourse in India.

Subscribe to Newswire | Site Map
18, Link Road, Jungpura Extension, New Delhi 110014, INDIA.

Tel: 91-11-4100-1902    Email: officemail@ipcs.org

© Copyright 2018, Institute of Peace and Conflict Studies.