“The two sides reaffirm their commitment to achieving the goal of complete, verifiable, and irreversible denuclearization and maintaining peace and stability on the Korean Peninsula,” the United States and China stated on Friday.
Beijing has always maintained it supported North Korea’s “denuclearization,” but the statement, echoing the position of the administration of George W. Bush, is nonetheless surprisingly strong.
What motivated Beijing to join in announcing such a strong position?
Perhaps we should give some credit to the Trump administration. After all, the statement followed the first-ever session of the U.S.-China Diplomatic and Security Dialogue, held Wednesday in Washington.
At the Dialogue, U.S. officials, led by Secretary of State Rex Tillerson and Secretary of Defense Jim Mattis, worked hard to persuade their Chinese counterparts they had to do more to disarm North Korea, China’s client state and only formal ally.
“We reiterated to China that they have a diplomatic responsibility to exert much greater economic and diplomatic pressure on the regime if they want to prevent further escalation in the region,” said Tillerson to reporters on Wednesday, at the conclusion of the session.
Up to now, American attempts to appeal to the logic or better instincts of Chinese officials have not worked, but Tillerson’s threat of “escalation” undoubtedly sounded ominous to Beijing ears, especially because President Trump has shown he is willing to initiate force. For assistance, he broke diplomatic protocol—and good for him—by announcing the missile strike on China’s long-term friend, Syria, while a helpless Chinese leader, Xi Jinping, was at his side at the Mar-a-Lago meeting in early April.
Whether China has in fact changed its North Korea policy will, of course, depend on more than on just words from Beijing. It will depend on, among other things, Beijing’s ending of its continuous support for Pyongyang’s nuclear weapons and ballistic missile programs.
China, despite what its officials have always said, has not tried to disarm the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea. On the country, over the course of decades it has been directly assisting the North’s most dangerous efforts.
Take the North’s nuke program. In the spring of 2016, David Albright of the Institute for Science and International Security reported that North Korea was sourcing cylinders of uranium hexafluoride, vacuum pumps, and valves from China for use in its nuclear program.
Moreover, a Chinese company, Dandong Hongxiang Industrial Development Co., late in 2016 was implicated in a scheme to sell to North Korea chemicals, including aluminum oxide, used in processing fuel for nuclear devices.
Beijing, revealing its intentions, bitterly complained of American attempts to stop Dandong Hongxiang.
Moreover, China has been involved in supplying equipment and, almost certainly, technology for the North’s ballistic missile program.
As an initial matter, Sanjiang Space Special Vehicle Corp., a unit of China Aerospace Science and Industry Corp., transferred the 16-wheel chassis for the transporter-erector-launcher for the North’s KN-08, a liquid-fuel intercontinental ballistic missile.
Beijing admitted that in 2012. At the time, Chinese officials told the Obama administration that the North Koreans told them that the chassis would be used for logging vehicles. That was not credible because, among other reasons, the chassis were wider than the roads leading to the North’s logging areas.
In all probability, Sanjiang also provided the rest of the vehicle, in other words, the interface with the missile. It makes no sense for North Korea to use a specialized chassis designed to carry a fragile missile for hauling sturdy logs. And why would the cash-poor North buy something it could make itself?
Even if China provided just the chassis, Beijing put America in danger. The KN-08 looks like it is able to reach the lower 48 states, so the Chinese made North Korea a real threat to the American homeland.
The North’s longest-range missile, the Taepodong, is not a usable weapon. It takes weeks to transport, assemble, fuel, and test and can thus be easily destroyed before launch.
The KN-08, on the other hand, is mobile.
Because it is mobile, it can hide. Because it can hide, it is hard to detect. Because it is hard to detect, it is hard to destroy before launch.
There are other indications China provided substantial assistance to the North’s ballistic missile effort. The solid-fuel missiles North Korea tested August 24 of last year and February 12 and May 21 of this year look like they were modeled on China’s JL-1 submarine-launched ballistic missile.
Two leading missile specialists, Bruce Bechtol of Angelo State University in Texas and Tal Inbar of Israel’s Fisher Institute for Air and Space Strategic Studies, have noted the similarity.
The Chinese did not necessarily transfer the plans for a solid-fuel missile to the North Koreans, but Washington needs to ask Beijing questions. As Bechtol told me, “Let there be no doubt, the North Koreans did not just go out and develop a solid-fuel, medium-range ballistic missile on their own.”
Unfortunately, there is more disturbing evidence of collusion. On April 15, the Kim regime paraded a large canister, big enough to hold a three-stage missile. The canister sat on a 16-wheel mobile launcher manufactured by Sanjiang.
Moreover, the canister also looks to be Chinese in origin, the one China uses for either its DF-31 missile or the longer-range DF-41. Both missiles can reach the West Coast.
Unfortunately, there is a pattern of Chinese and Chinese-looking equipment showing up in the North Korean arsenal. So if Beijing’s statement Friday has any meaning, it is that China will stop the flow of equipment, components, and technology to one of the most dangerous regimes on earth.
Beijing’s policymakers routinely tell their American counterparts that “whoever has tied the knot shall untie it,” taking the position that the North is building nukes and missiles because of American hostility.
China’s blaming the United States is ridiculous as there is virtually no history to support that view. The party that tied this knot with its weapons transfers is Beijing, and Beijing should now “untie” the situation by taking away the arms it gave to the North Koreans.