Tensions on and around the Korean Peninsula have continued to rise between the U.S. and North Korea in recent weeks, with the continued ballistic missile testing by the North Koreans and the subsequent deployments of the USS Carl Vinson battle group to the Sea of Japan and the USS Michigan ballistic missile submarine docking in South Korea. One would think that China would be the first to condemn the increased U.S. military presence in its backyard or that they would perhaps speak out against the alleged “left of launch” cyber attacks that have been disrupting North Korean missile tests, but no, the Chinese government has been noticeably quiet during this crisis. This is not to say they have been entirely silent, there was a Chinese Special Envoy sent to South Korea to discuss how to handle the increased tensions between the North and South, they urged North Korea to halt its ballistic missile testing program, and have just recently asked the U.S. to try and deescalate the crisis.
China does not seem to be taking the actions or speaking out to the degree that one would expect with an impending war on the Peninsula. There could be several factors contributing to this relative quiet. First, China seems to be realizing that it can no longer control North Korea, but the international community will hold China responsible for North Korea’s actions and they know that. The inaction may stem from simply not knowing how to proceed. If China were to outright denounce North Korea it would likely result in the North Koreans giving the world the proverbial finger and attacking South Korea or Japan. At this point though, inaction may prove to be more dangerous. If China wishes to truly take a place alongside the U.S. on the world stage, it cannot continue to endorse the stability-threatening behavior of North Korea. It’s entirely likely that there are multiple factions within the Chinese government supporting different approaches to the North Korean situation. This would explain why they seem outwardly indecisive or hesitant. In the coming weeks we should pay special attention to any statement issued or action taken by the Chinese government as this may be the indicator for how they would like to proceed in handling the crisis.