Last week, North Korea conducted its biggest nuclear test to date; however, the Chinese reaction has been practically non-existent. Their silence can be better understood in context of the incredibly complex situation between North Korea, South Korea, China, and the United States. South Korea has become incredibly fearful of the North Korean nuclear tests and has reached out to its ally, the United States, for protection. The United States recently agreed to deploy a missile defense system (THAAD) in S. Korea to protect it from N. Korean nuclear advances; however, China sees this missile defense program as a security threat to itself. On the other hand, China has a formal treaty with only one country: N. Korea. While they are eager to keep close western ties for economic reasons, they want to maintain a healthy relationship with N. Korea to balance the U.S.’s influence in S. Korea. China has agreed to join in the United Nations in pressuring N. Korea through economic sanctions. However, as evidenced by the recent nuclear tests, China has not been entirely honest about its trade dealings with N. Korea. Unfortunately, until China initiates a harder lockdown on sanctions against N.Korea, there is nothing the rest of the world can do to halt the progress of N. Korea’s nuclear system.
China’s real fear is that harsh economic sanctions will put so much pressure on N. Korea that current leadership will collapse. Although this is an appealing idea, the resulting chaos and vacuum of power could lead to a failed state. China, with its geographic proximity, will face the brunt of the N. Korean defeat.
However, Chinese officials fail to understand that the United States is also not looking to force the collapse of the N. Korean government. China forgets that S. Korea, on N. Korea’s southern border, will also have severe challenges in dealing with refugees and security issues. The United States, as a long-time S. Korean ally, will also become involved in the political, economic, and humanitarian crisis. The United States has no interest in involving itself in the fallout from another power vacuum.
Because the UN sanctions were crafted with the intent to weaken, not destroy, the N. Korean government, China needs to do a better job enforcing their part of the sanctions. Until they do, the possibility of a successful N. Korean nuclear attack grows by the day.
Full text of the article here: http://www.nytimes.com/2016/09/12/world/asia/north-korea-china-nuclear-sanctions-thaad-america.html