As the Carl Vinson carrier group resumes its zigzag journey towards North Korea, comes news of a telephone call yesterday by Chinese President Xi Jinping to US President Donald Trump. Importantly it seems it was President Xi who initiated the call as he set out to President Trump China’s position on the North Korean issue.
The People’s Daily – the official newspaper of China’s Communist Party – has provided a summary of the call
China hopes all parties can exercise “restraint” on the DPRK issue, and not take “provocative actions”, said Chinese President Xi Jinping during a phone conversation with his US counterpart Donald Trump on Monday.
Xi stressed China is strongly against any action that would violate any UN Security Council resolutions. The Chinese president added that only if all parties take their responsibilities and work together can the Korean Peninsula nuclear issue be solved.
The phone conversation came amid rising tensions over Pyongyang’s nuclear and missileprograms, with concerns growing over the possibility of a sixth DPRK nuclear test.
(bold italics added)
An account of the call has also been provided by the White House. It reads as follows
President Donald J. Trump spoke yesterday with President Xi Jinping of China to address issues regarding North Korea. President Trump criticized North Korea’s continued belligerence and emphasized that Pyongyang’s actions are destabilizing the Korean Peninsula. The two leaders reaffirmed the urgency of the threat posed by North Korea’s missile and nuclear programs, and committed to strengthen coordination in achieving the denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula.
This telephone call came simultaneously with a statement yesterday on the North Korean issue by Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi, who is currently in Athens, Greece. Here complete is the People’s Daily account of what Wang Yi said
Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi here on Sunday urged all sides to make voices of peace and reason on the Korean Peninsula issue, and reiterated China’s consistent and definite stand on denuclearizing the Peninsula.
Wang made the statement when asked about the situation of the Korean Peninsula at a joint press conference with his Greek counterpart Nikos Kotzias.
Wang said that there were already enough shows of force and confrontation at present and that “we need to make peaceful and rational voices.”
China’s stand on the issue of the Korean Peninsula is constant and definite, and will not change, which means adherence to realizing denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula, and adherence to maintaining peace and stability of the Korean Peninsula. Therefore, peaceful means must be applied to solve the nuclear issue of the Korean Peninsula, Wang noted.
Though China is not the focus of the current contradiction, and though the key to solving the nuclear issue of the Korean Peninsula is not in its hands, China, adopting an attitude of assuming responsibility for peace of the Korean Peninsula and regional stability, has always been exerting efforts for resuming peace talks, according to Wang.
Recently, China has put forward a legitimate and reasonable proposal on the issue, which is winning understanding and support from more and more countries, the Chinese minister said, adding that China welcomes solutions proposed by other sides concerned if they also hold sincerity for peace.
“China will not be swayed by the various statements concerned, and will not renounce its due responsibility,” Wang said, “China will continue maintaining dialogue and consultation with all sides and continue playing a constructive role in solving the nuclear issue of the Korean Peninsula.”
(bold italics added)
The highlighted words in the summaries of the comments of Xi Jinping and of Wang Yi make quite clear what China’s message to the US is.
China has warned the US against taking military action against North Korea. It regards such military action as dangerous, destabilising, provocative and contrary to international law. It also regards US threats to take unilateral action against North Korea as provocative and unhelpful.
China does not consider itself under any duty to “solve” the North Korean problem (“China is not the focus of the current contradiction”) and cannot and will not force North Korea to give up its nuclear weapons or to stop its nuclear weapons programme (“solving the nuclear issue of the Korean Peninsula is not in [China’s] hands”).
That appears to rule out China imposing the sort of all-embracing sanctions on North Korea Donald Trump wants it to.
Instead what China wants is direct talks (“resuming peace talks”) between the US and North Korea to resolve their conflict. Whilst this obviously includes denuclearisation of the Korean Peninsula (which would also involve the withdrawal of US nuclear weapons known to be deployed in South Korea), the reference to “peace talks” may imply that China wants the US to negotiate a more all-encompassing peace settlement between itself and North Korea, as was originally envisaged during the previous period of dialogue between the US and North Korea in the 1990s.
The Chinese are making it clear that they are unimpressed both by Donald Trump’s threats and by his bribes (trade agreements and the like), and that they will not be swayed from their position on North Korea because of them (“China will not be swayed by the various statements concerned”).
President Trump’s response to this warning from China appears to have been both defensive and blustering (“President Trump criticized North Korea’s continued belligerence and emphasized that Pyongyang’s actions are destabilizing the Korean Peninsula”).
The strange movements of the Carl Vinson and its associated battle-fleet have understandably enough led many people to the think that the crisis which has been brewing up in the Korean Peninsula over the last few weeks is a wholly fake one, and that nothing real is happening there.
That clearly is not China’s view, as shown by the string of warnings China gave the US yesterday.
If President Trump was bluffing China to get China to put more pressure on North Korea, then – as I predicted– his bluff has been called, and yesterday he was made starkly aware of the fact by no less a person than the Chinese President. The fact his bluff was called no doubt explains Trump’s defensive and blustering response.
It is now up to President Trump to decide whether, with his bluff called, he now escalates, or draws back. It is to be hoped he draws back.