Tensions in the Asia-Pacific
North Korea’s second intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) test on July 28, three weeks after its first test on July 4, raised tensions in the Asia-Pacific and strained relations between China and the United States.
The U.S. President Donald Trump, while tweeting from his account that the U.S. “will no longer allow this to continue,” has publicly accused China for doing nothing to help the U.S. thwart North Korea’s missile development program. The U.S. also flew B-1B bombers along with South Korean and Japanese fighter jets over the Korean Peninsula on July 30, in response to North Korean tests.
President Trump’s latest vexation with the Chinese government’s silence on North Korean ambition to develop ICBMs capable of reaching the U.S. has not been the only problem between the two countries. The U.S. and China have been at loggerheads particularly over the control of the South China Sea, where China has been trying for some time to expand its maritime presence and sovereignty through construction of various artificial islands and military facilities over them. There are other problems as well, ranging from the constant U.S. criticism of China’s human rights record to Trump’s arms sale plans to Taiwan and to China’s alleged cyber-attacks against the U.S.
Although President Trump and his Chinese counterpart, Xi Jinping, had the chance to discuss the growing threat of North Korea during the G20 summit in Hamburg at the beginning of July, President Trump’s recent tweets confirm that they are not yet on the same page. Precisely while China, which is North Korea’s main economic and diplomatic ally, insists on dialogue, various statements from the U.S. indicate towards the possibility of employing more coercive policies soon, including a preemptive strike.
In fact, the previous U.S. administrations have already tried several economic and diplomatic measures to curb North Korea’s missile development program. However, they failed to restrain its leader Kim Jong-Un’s desire to develop ICBMs and the frequency of missile and nuclear tests by North Korea have considerably increased in recent years. Just in 2017, it has launched 18 missiles in 12 tests and after the latest tests experts believe the U.S. might now be within its striking range.
The hesitancy of international community, particularly China and Russia, despite several United Nations Security Council resolutions against North Korea, to impose stricter sanctions has also irritated the U.S. and its Ambassador to the U.N., Nikki Haley, stressed on July 30, that the time for diplomacy ends for North Korea and that the U.S. will not call for an additional resolution in the U.N. Security Council that would produce “nothing of consequence.”
Thus, the Trump administration is now trying to come up with a new policy response to North Korean continued violation of U.N. resolutions and dramatic escalation of its missile capability, while also signaling that the U.S. is now even considering unilateral military action. However, President Xi Jinping’s statement on the 90th anniversary of the establishment of China’s People’s Liberation Army on Aug. 1 that China will never “swallow the bitter fruit of foreign intervention to its sovereignty, security and development interests” indicates that a U.S. unilateral military response to North Korea could not be as straightforward as it appears at first.
While China has been challenging U.S. supremacy in international politics for a while, neither China nor the U.S. is willing to have a showdown soon over North Korea. Thus, the best option under the circumstances would be to find a diplomatic way out yet again. Otherwise, the risks of rising tensions in the Asia-Pacific with the potential to end in war would be costly for all involved.