January 12, 2016 10:00
China on Monday urged "relevant parties to remain calm and exercise restraint" as the U.S. dispatched a B-52 strategic bomber to fly over South Korea in a show of force after North Korea's fourth nuclear test.
"To maintain peace and stability of Northeast Asia serves the common interests of all relevant parties," Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Hong Lei told reporters. "We hope that relevant parties can exercise restraint, take prudent actions and avoid ratcheting up tensions."
Chinese Defense Minister Chang Wanquan has still not responded to a request for a telephone conversation Defense Minister Han Min-koo made last Wednesday right after the North conducted the nuclear test.
When Seoul and Beijing opened their military hotline on New Year's Eve, Han said he expected the link to pave the way for "close cooperation and communication" between the two countries, and Chang responded the hotline demonstrates the "high level of importance" China places on its relations with South Korea.
But when the real security threat occurred days later, the promises were already forgotten and Beijing simply ignored the call.
On the day of the North's nuclear test, China condemned the North and voiced "strong opposition." But analysts say Beijing's stance shifted the following day, when U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry mentioned China's responsibility in the latest escalation of tensions.
One diplomatic source in Beijing said, "China believes South Korea, the U.S. and Japan are moving too quickly, and there is a lot of resentment about allegations that China is responsible."
The source said in a meeting last Thursday, Chinese Foreign Ministry officials appear to have decided to stress stability on the Korean Peninsula as well as denuclearization.
China appears concerned about the assertive reaction of the U.S. in its backyard, which could be a stepping stone to boosting its military influence in the region. Beijing is also wary of Seoul and Tokyo forging stronger military ties after a vaguely worded agreement over Korean victims of Japanese sexual enslavement.
Some analysts worry that China's suspicions of the U.S. and Japan are prompting a return to a Cold War-style standoff in Northeast Asia.
South Korea and the U.S. are discussing the deployment of Terminal High Altitude Area Defense batteries in the South, while Japan is trying to bolster its military power using North Korea's nuclear weapons program as an excuse. For China, these issues are as unnerving as the latest North Korean nuclear test.
When North Korea conducted its third nuclear test in 2013, Beijing waited until the UN Security Council announced sanctions before making its own move, cracking down on North Korean banks in China and prohibited its citizens from traveling to the North.
Beijing continued to pressure Pyongyang by closely inspecting all goods crossing the border with North Korea and curbed visas for North Korean laborers.
A high-ranking diplomatic source said, "China will wait this time too until the UN Security Council announces its sanctions before reaching its own decisions on sanctioning the North. But it would be realistic to expect a slightly stronger response than after the previous nuclear test."
- Copyright © Chosunilbo & Chosun.com