South Korean President-elect Yoon Suk-yeol had the first conversation over the phone with Chinese President Xi Jinping. It came the day after North Korea’s launch of the ‘monster ICBM.’ Yoon discussed with Xi the security situation on the Korean Peninsula and responses to North Korea’s provocations. North Korea confirmed on Friday that the ICBM was the Hwasong-17 and claimed that it had been completed as a reliable method to deter nuclear wars.
North Korea is baldly raising the level of nuclear provocations by breaking the red line with the launch of the ‘monster ICBM.’ North Korean leader Kim Jong Un delivered a handwritten order that read “Shoot with bravery” and visited Pyongyang Sunan Airport to watch the launch process. A North Korean news agency covered the story and used the word ‘nuclear’ 13 times. It seems like the country will continue further provocations, including nuclear tests.
It is true that the response of China, a country supposed to prevent the North’s impulsive behavior, was disappointing. “We hope each relevant country will maintain an appropriate direction for dialogues and negotiations,” said China on Thursday regarding the North’s ICBM launch. Rather than condemning the North, China seems to be shifting the responsibility to other countries. China is also not raising its voice in the U.N. Security Council, as it cannot avoid criticism that it took advantage of the New Cold War atmosphere and opened a room for North Korea’s provocations.
It is unlikely that China will work with Yoon on the North Korean issues. The country has been expressing its discomfort with Yoon’s policy of ‘confident diplomacy’ toward China. However, there is no reason for China to aid and abet North Korea’s nuclear provocations. North Korea’s sophistication of nuclear technology is a political burden and security threat to President Xi before his third term. It is a factor accelerating regional destabilization by encouraging neighboring countries’ nuclear proliferation.
China should stop North Korea’s provocation and put pressure on the country to come to dialogues. China should first change its attitude of obstructing the international community’s sanctions against North Korea. The U.N. Security Resolution 2397 has a trigger clause that automatically applies additional sanctions against North Korea in case of its ICBM launch but it is only effective when the resolution is passed. China’s participation is a responsibility as a member of the international community. The new South Korean administration should also prepare to begin close cooperation with China right after it takes office. Deterring North Korea’s nuclear weapons is a common ground on which the national interests of South Korea and China depend and a key issue that will determine the future relationship of the two.