China has begun to adopt a more critical stance on North Korea in recent weeks, while being careful not to appear too friendly to Western opponents like the United States.  Instead of serving as a political barrier to progress regarding Kim Jong Un’s regime as they could once be accused of doing, China has begun participating in the international conversation regarding their reclusive ally, agreeing that the ultimate goal should be a denuclearized Korean peninsula, even if they can’t see eye to eye with other nations as to how to go about doing so.

North Korea, however, is never one to allow even the slightest provocation slip by without responding with a tone-deaf threat that would seem to indicate North Korea believes it has some kind of leverage over one of their only remaining international friends.  As was the case earlier this week when China publicly called on both North Korea and the United States to stop “antagonizing” one another.

North Korea responded to China’s “provocation” in their own KCNA, the state-owned Korean Central News Agency.  Because their threats were provoked by an editorial in a Chinese owned media outlet itself, they first clarified that the Global Times newspaper is “widely known as media speaking for the official stand of the Chinese party and government.”

“A string of absurd and reckless remarks are now heard from China every day only to render the present bad situation tenser,” the KCNA editorial said.

“China had better ponder over the grave consequences to be entailed by its reckless act of chopping down the pillar of the DPRK-China relations,” the article continued, referring to North Korea by the acronym for its official state name, the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea.

“The DPRK will never beg for the maintenance of friendship with China,” it read after stating that North Korea’s nuclear program was needed for the development of the country and that its pursuit of nuclear weapons “can never be changed nor shaken.”

Unlike North Korea’s aggressive policy on foreign relations, China responded to their statements with the reserved posture of a state torn between international pressures and its rambunctious ally.  Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Geng Shuang issued a statement indicating that China’s positions regarding North Korea, and its nuclear program, have been consistently clear.

“China’s position on developing friendly, good-neighborly relations with North Korea is also consistent and clear,” Geng told reporters before adding that China was “unswervingly devoted to the denuclearization of the peninsula and maintaining peace and security and resolving the issue through talks.”

State owned Chinese news outlets also responded, with the People’s Daily issuing a response via its WeChat social media account that claimed North Korea’s nuclear ambitions represented a clear threat to China’s safety and security.

“North Korea has not left the Cold War behind and does not want to, and is enmeshed in a web of its own spinning of antagonism between its enemies and itself,” it said.

North Korea executed yet another missile test this past Saturday, in what many could interpret as a message intended to bolster their claims that they will not bow to international calls for an end to their pursuit of nuclear weapons and delivery systems capable of targeting foreign nations.  This test, however, like many before it, was met with near immediate failure; another blemish on the North Korean ballistic missile program.

President Trump suggested this latest test was an even more direct message intended for China after their recent statements calling on the reclusive state to end its nuclear ambitions.

“North Korea disrespected the wishes of China & its highly respected President when it launched, though unsuccessfully, a missile today. Bad!” President Trump tweeted.

This year, North Korea has executed ballistic missile tests six times, with four ending in complete failure and one more exhibiting an at least partial failure to demonstrate an ability to cover long distances and impact a designated target.  The most recent missile launched reportedly exploded after covering only 21 miles.

Despite these repeated failures, North Korea has only increased their aggressive rhetoric, repeatedly threatening pre emptive nuclear strikes on U.S. forces in South Korea and Japan.  If their most recent tests are any indicator, it seems unlikely that they have the capability to accurately strike any target they intend to, but that does little to reduce the destructive capability of one of their missiles equipped with a nuclear warhead.  If the missile were to fly off course and impact a different part of South Korea or Japan than intended, the death toll could potentially still be massive.

Could China be funneling missile technology to North Korea through Iran?

Read Next: Could China be funneling missile technology to North Korea through Iran?

As a result, the United States and South Korea recently accelerated the deployment of the THAAD missile defense system, which works alongside other missile defense strategies such as the AEGIS missile defense system employed by U.S. Naval ships to provide a blanket of protection for the region.  However, it’s important to note that even these systems cannot provide a guarantee that a North Korean launch would be successfully intercepted before making landfall.

Which begs the question, if the United States and its allies begin to suspect Kim Jong Un has his finger on the button… how will they respond?  China and the United States seem to agree that a diplomatic solution is the best possible outcome, but if one cannot be found, a military strike may be the only option.  The international community is resolute in claiming the intent of America and its allies defensive posturing is not to remove Kim from power, but ultimately it will be Kim’s decision as to how far he’s willing to test that limit.

Of all the lives Kim Jong Un threatens to end in his ceaseless pursuit of destructive power, the one he may truly be risking… is his own.


Editorial cartoon courtesy of Robert L. Lang