In an oblique message to Seoul, China on Monday fired a diplomatic warning shot at the United States of America through a new agreement between President Xi Jinping and the North Korean leader, Kim Jong Un, one that poses grave security challenges for the US in the near future.
Xi’s office announced on Monday morning that he and Kim had traded seemingly benign messages through two interlocutors from each country during a meeting in Beijing earlier in the day.
A report in Chinese state news said the two leaders agreed “to uphold the political settlement of the Korean Peninsula issue and preserve peace and stability on the peninsula, so as to make new contributions to regional peace, stability, development and prosperity.”
It is open to question whether the bilateral signal of intent will minimise the prospect of hostilities considering that the choppy waters of the South China Sea shall remain a contentious issue. Indeed, the statement of cooperation, so-called, poses a fresh threat to the United States, not the least because of the bellicosity that has for years influenced geopolitics.
An exchange between Xi Jingping and Kim Jong Un implies that North Korea may restart nuclear weapons or ICBM tests if President Biden does not heed an implicit warning.
The Pyongyang- Beijing statement represents a clear threat to President Biden not to continue the policies of the Trump administration or face drastic consequences, reminding Washington that China continues to hold outsized influence in North Korea and the extent to which Pyongyang decides to restart tests of its nuclear weapons or intercontinental ballistic missiles depends on how aggressive an approach the United States takes.
The timing of the new threat becomes all the more conspicuous by the aggressive statement that Kim’s powerful sister issued last week, returning North Korea to international attention with pledges of fresh violence amidst an apparent stalemate in talks between Pyongyang and Washington.
Both countries have since confirmed that North Korea has not responded to diplomatic outreach from both the Trump and Biden administrations for more than a year.
Monday’s exchange comes days after a fiery meeting last week between top American and Chinese diplomats in Alaska. Both sides appeared eager for their domestic and international audience to see the hard line each plans to take against each other, and so the usually staid and brief opening remarks on Thursday almost immediately devolved into a 90- minute exchange of rants with each side publicly blaming the other for regional and, at times, global instability.
The seemingly schizophrenic response from the Chinese delegation was widely seen as a classic example of Beijing’s diplomacy. Monday’s threats pile on to that strategy with a reminder that China must, to a certain extent, accept any punishments that the US exacts on North Korea for them to have any effect.