Chinese government advisors and a senior military officer warned Beijing that it must be ready for a war on the Korean peninsula, with the risk of conflict higher than ever before, the SCMP reported on Saturday. They also warned that Beijing, once seen as Pyongyang’s biggest ally with influence over its neighbor, was losing control of the situation.
“Conditions on the peninsula now make for the biggest risk of a war in decades,” said Renmin University international relations professor Shi Yinhong, who also advises the State Council, China’s cabinet. “North Korea is a time bomb. We can only delay the explosion, hoping that by delaying it, a time will come to remove the detonator,” Shi added on the sidelines of a Beijing conference on the crisis.
Shi said US President Donald Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong-un were locked in a vicious cycle of threats and it was already too late for China to avert it. However, at best, Beijing could delay a full-blown conflict. Also addressing the conference was Wang Hongguang, former deputy commander of the Nanjing's Military Region, who warned that war could break out on the Korean peninsula at any time from now on until March when South Korea and the United States held annual military drills.
“It is a highly dangerous period,” Wang said. “Northeast China should mobilise defences for war.”
The warnings continued: Yang Xiyu, a senior fellow at the China Institute of International Studies affiliated with China’s foreign ministry, said conditions on the peninsula were at their most perilous in half a century. “No matter whether there is war or peace, regretfully, China has no control, dominance or even a voice on the issue,” he said. China might already be preparing for the worst.
Adding to the urgencym last week the official newspaper of the province bordering North Korea, Jilin Daily, published a full page of advice for residents on how to respond to a nuclear attack. Wang said the Jilin Daily article was a “signal to the country to be prepared for a coming war.” He said China was also worried about the threat North Korea’s frequent nuclear tests were posing to unstable geological structures in the region.
Confirming that China is indeed preparing for the worst case, a document allegedly from telecom operator China Mobile about plans to set up five refugee camps in Jilin’s Changbai county also surfaced online last week.
Separately, Nanjing University professor Zhu Feng said that no matter how minor the possibility, China should be prepared psychologically and practically for “a catastrophic nuclear conflict, nuclear fallout or a nuclear explosion”.
“Why do we always act like ostriches? Why do we always believe a war won’t occur?” Zhu said.
“What China needs is a sense of urgency about its declining influence in strategy related to the peninsula and the way it brings down China’s status and role in East Asian security issues.” He also said Kim’s failure to meet Chinese envoy Song Tao during his trip to Pyongyang last month was a “humiliation” for China.
Ironically, even as China admits - if only internally so far - that its influence on the Kim regime is fading fast, at the United Nations in New York, US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson called on China and Russia to increase their efforts to halt Pyongyang’s nuclear programme. Tillerson also backtracked on his previous unconditional offer for talks by saying that Washington would not negotiate with Pyongyang until it stopped “threatening behaviours”.
Last week, North Korean ambassador to the UN Ja Song-nam accused the United States, Japan and the United Nations Security Council of waging a hostile campaign to stop Pyongyang from gaining nuclear weapons that it saw as necessary to defend itself.
Renmin University professor Shi said hopes for peace could not rest on Kim and Trump, and China and Russia should work together to argue against war.
In a meeting with South Korean President Moon Jae-in in Beijing, Chinese President Xi Jinping said war on the peninsula was not acceptable, however if even China is starting to prepare for an inevitable nuclear conflict, South Korea - which will be first in the line of fire - may be out of luck.