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North Korea nuclear crisis

Will North Korea crisis finally bring China and US together?

Despite differences in priorities, the two powers have come together to deal with Pyongyang’s challenge, analysts say

PUBLISHED : Monday, 01 May, 2017, 10:01pm
UPDATED : Tuesday, 02 May, 2017, 11:20pm

The rising crisis over North Korea’s nuclear ambitions has forced China and the United States to work together – at least for now – but tensions remain high in the Korean Peninsula.

Regional observers say the two powers have come together in an effort to deal with North Korea.

“Both nations have been continuing to coordinate on the North Korea issues after the Trump-Xi summit as there is a gap in the understanding between the two governments,” said Li Kaisheng, a researcher at the Shanghai Academy of Social Sciences.

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“Trump is tough on North Korea and the Chinese government needs to express its own position as an unstable Korean Peninsula is the last thing Beijing wants, so frequent negotiation within a short period of time is necessary.”

Though China and the US differed on their priorities on the North Korean crisis, the issue was where both sides could find common ground, according to Sun Xingjie, a Korean affairs expert from Jilin University.

This was especially so compared with other more contentious issues such as the South China Sea and trade, he said.

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China’s biggest concern was a new nuclear test by Pyongyang, while the US was more worried about the North’s inter-continental missile capabilities, he added.

“One of the major changes [after the Mar-a-Lago summit] is that China and the US are willing to team up in the face of the challenge from North Korea, and together draw a red line against the North,” Sun said.

While the situation in the Korean Peninsula seemed “very tense”, the danger of a full-fledged crisis “should not be exaggerated”, the academic said.

“The US apparently is not ready for a military strike against North Korea and it still has to depend on China to reign in nuclear-armed Pyongyang and defuse the tension.”

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But North Korea has thus far remained defiant, raising fears that it could spark war – forcing China’s hand – if it continued on its retaliative path of launching military attacks on US facilities in the region.

Ties between Beijing and Pyongyang have come under renewed strain in recent months, especially after China abruptly cut off coal imports from the North in February.

Wu Dawei, China’s top envoy for North Korean nuclear affairs, was reportedly rebuffed when he requested to meet his North Korean counterpart, according to Bloomberg last week.

The snub raised questions about Beijing’s influence over the North Korean leader, Kim, and also suggested a shift in the reclusive state’s attitude towards its sole ally.

Just a month ago in an interview with Phoenix TV, Jang Song Chol, North Korea’s Consul General to Hong Kong, said Pyongyang would stand with Beijing and Moscow in the face of challenges from the US and South Korea.

Jang also remarked that the Trump administration was still “searching in the dark” on its North Korean policy.

Huang Jing, an international relations specialist from the National University of Singapore, said Beijing knew Pyongyang desired direct dialogue and normalisation of bilateral ties with Washington, so it was in fact the US – rather than China – that had been reluctant to resolve the North Korean issue.

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“Washington clearly saw benefits to using North Korea to tighten its grip on its key regional allies, South Korea and Japan,” Huang said. “It also tried to make use of China’s dilemma on North Korea to create problems for Beijing, for example, depriving Beijing of the moral high ground by stalling the six-party talks.”

The six-party talks are multilateral negotiations involving China, Japan, North Korea, Russia, South Korea and the US aimed at dismantling Pyongyang’s nuclear programme.