North Korea nuclear crisis

The big chasm between China and US over the North Korean threat

US expert says a ‘real gap’ exists between the two nations in evaluating the level of peril posed by Pyongyang’s nuclear programme after ICBM launch

PUBLISHED : Friday, 07 July, 2017, 7:30am
UPDATED : Thursday, 13 July, 2017, 9:13pm

Top Chinese and US experts differ over how to defuse the North Korean nuclear threat, reflecting a gap between the two nations in assessing the issue’s urgency after Pyongyang claimed a successful launch of an intercontinental ballistic missile capable of reaching Alaska.

At the Washington-based Centre for Strategic and International Studies on Thursday, a US team of experts criticised China for not recognising “the new level of threat posed by the Kim Jong-un regime”. The US is “incredibly concerned about the launch of an ICBM,” said Bonnie Glaser, a senior adviser for Asia at the think tank.

American intelligence has determined that North Korea’s latest test-launch on Tuesday, a day before the US Independence Day holiday, was an ICBM capable of striking Alaska, according to various US reports. China has not yet reached the same conclusion. “We are trying to get more information, following the developments of the situation and making the assessment,” Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Geng Shuang said on Wednesday during a press briefing.

“I do sense a real gap between the two countries in terms of the assessment of the urgency,” Glaser said. The two sides’ expert teams jointly launched parallel reports on US-China relations to redefine their differences and commonalities to date in an event at the think tank.

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The Trump administration has accused China of not doing enough to press North Korea through its economic ties with the reclusive country.

On that note, Glaser said China failed to act against certain Chinese banks that have allegedly given financial support to Pyongyang’s missile and nuclear programme. Bank of Dandong, a Chinese bank sanctioned by the US last week, is just the “tip of an iceberg, there are more”, she said.

The North Korea issue is expected to be on the table during the upcoming meeting between President Xi Jinping and US President Trump on the sidelines of the Group of 20 nations’ summit in Hamburg, Germany this week.

In contrast to the US side, Chinese experts played down the urgency of North Korea threat, insisting that the problem cannot be addressed by sanctions alone, and that diplomacy is necessary, according to the parallel report released on Thursday.

Zhu Feng, a professor of international relations at Nanjing University in China, disputed his American peers’ arguments at the event. “It’s not easy for China to punch the table and cut all the trade relations with DPRK overnight,” he said, using the abbreviation for North Korea’s formal name, the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea.

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Zhu, who co-authored the Chinese side’s report, said that notwithstanding the disputes, China benefits from having the US as a “regional security anchor”. The Asia Pacific area is the “biggest testing ground” for US-China relations, even though sometimes ideological and political collisions happen, he said.