Trigger a conflict and be prepared to pay the price, China’s foreign minister warns
Wang Yi warns that whoever provokes an outbreak of hostilities on the Korean peninsula must take ‘historic responsibility’ for the action
In his toughest assessment yet of the escalating North Korean nuclear crisis, Foreign Minister Wang Yi warned on Friday that a conflict could erupt “at any moment” – and whoever provoked it would pay the price.
Analysts said Wang’s warning reflected the danger of an imminent threat.
“Tensions have risen ... and one has the feeling that a conflict could break out at any moment,” Wang said Beijing in a press conference with his French counterpart, Jean-Marc Ayrault.
“Once a war really happens, the result will be nothing but loss all round and no one will be a winner.”
Whichever side provoked a conflict “must assume the historic responsibility and pay the corresponding price”, he said .
Tensions have risen sharply since US President Donald Trump took office in January.
Trump has repeatedly criticised Pyongyang for developing nuclear weapons and accused Beijing of not doing enough to stop its wayward ally. Trump’s rhetoric towards China has eased since he hosted President Xi Jinping in Florida last week but his decision to order an air strike against Syria during the summit was widely seen as a warning to North Korea that the US was ready to take unilateral military action.
In addition, the United States and South Korea have started their biggest war games ever, the USS Carl Vinson aircraft carrier has been sent to the waters off the Korean peninsula, and US satellite imagery suggests Pyongyang could conduct another underground nuclear test at any time.
Pyongyang recently tested a ballistic missile and claims it is close to perfecting an intercontinental ballistic missile and nuclear warhead that could reach the US mainland.
Li Dunqiu, a specialist in Korean studies at Zhejiang University, said Wang’s warning was aimed at both Pyongyang and Washington.
“All three parties – North Korea, South Korea and the US, have direct responsibility – the US in particular for its recent military drills and aircraft carrier deployment [off the water of the peninsula],” Li said.
Li said Beijing was also hoping to send a message across to Pyongyang, adding “it is not possible for North Korea to simply ignore China’s position”.
Wang’s remarks also came after Trump took to Twitter again and said: “I have great confidence that China will properly deal with North Korea. If they are unable to do so, the US with its allies, will!”
North Korean Vice Foreign Minister Han Song-ryol said Trump’s comments on Twitter were adding fuel to a “vicious cycle” of tensions on the Korean peninsula, the Associated Press reported yesterday.
If the US showed any sign of “reckless” military aggression, Pyongyang was ready to launch a pre-emptive strike of its own, Han said.
Shi Yinhong, director of Renmin University’s Centre for American Studies and an adviser to the State Council, said Beijing was caught between Pyongyang and Washington, and has limited options to deal with the crisis.
“China is willing to build on the good relations with the US and may impose harsher sanctions on North Korea,” Shi said. “But China will have to pay the price – [North Korean leader] Kim Jong-Un will not stop with his nuclear programme, and he will hate China even more.”
In a phone call with Trump this week, Xi called for a peaceful resolution to the North Korean nuclear crisis.