Four days ago, following China’s warning to the US that China would defend North Korea if the US attacked North Korea and sought to change its regime, and following Chinese President Xi Jinping’s follow-up call to US President Trump, in which Xi Jinping told Trump to back off, I said in article for The Duran that I thought Chinese diplomacy was likely to succeed and that the recent war of words between the US and North Korea would soon abate
When dealing with a country like North Korea and with a leader as proud, inexperienced and volatile as Donald Trump it is never easy to be sure, but my strong guess is that Chinese diplomacy over the last two days has been effective, and that the most dangerous point of the crisis is over.
If so then I expect the shouting match between Washington and Pyongyang which has inexplicably and mysteriously blown up over the last few days to start to subside.
In that same article I also pointed out that US President Trump was definitely not the only foreign leader the Chinese would have been in contact with over the course of the crisis. The Chinese were undoubtedly also talking to the North Koreans and probably to the South Koreans as well, and were of course liaising openly and closely with their Russian ally.
Today it is clear that Chinese diplomacy has indeed been successful. Kim Jong-un has rejected the grossly provocative plan of his military to launch Hwasong-12 missiles into the sea around Guam (where the US maintains a major naval and air base) and Donald Trump has congratulated Kim Jong-un on taking a “very wise and well reasoned decision”.
Though the Chinese have got what they wanted – an end to the war of words which has raged between Washington and Pyongyang over the last 2 weeks – it would be wrong to say that either Washington or Pyongyang has backed down.
That would imply that the two governments were making real threats against each other, which I strongly doubt was ever the case.
I am sure that there was never the slightest intention on the part of the US to launch a military attack on North Korea. I am also sure that Kim Jong-un and the North Korean leadership never had the slightest intention of launching the deeply provocative and wholly unnecessary missile demonstration against Guam that was being talked about.
The US military has made its strong opposition to a military strike on North Korea absolutely clear, and no US President – certainly not a President whose domestic political position is as weak as Donald Trump’s – is ever going to go against the US military on such an issue.
A consistent pattern of US military behaviour is that though the US military will unhesitatingly carry out a Presidential order to attack a weak opponent who is judged incapable of fighting back (good examples are Yugoslavia in 1999, the Taliban in 2001, Iraq in 2003 and Libya in 2011) it always balks at going to war with an enemy who has the potential to hit back and cause the US military serious damage.
This is the reason why the US military has always opposed a confrontation with the Russian military in Syria, despite the US military’s overall superiority over the Russian military in the area.
Against a North Korea armed with nuclear weapons and ballistic missiles – some of which may be capable of reaching US territory – and which is publicly backed by China, there was never the slightest chance of a US attack.
As for North Korea, the proposal to launch Hwasong-12 missiles in the direction of Guam always had a melodramatic look about it. I doubt it was ever intended seriously.
If neither side can be said to have backed down, the US nonetheless does look like something of the loser from this affair.
As the Chinese newspaper Global Times has pointed out, the US is always at a disadvantage when it engages North Korea in a war of words.
The US can’t usually gain the upper hand in this war of words, as Pyongyang chooses whatever wording it likes, and what Washington says may not be heard by North Korean society. But US opinion has paid great attention to everything North Korea says.
The Trump administration nonetheless unwisely chose to engage North Korea in just such a war of words.
The result has been to harden China’s support for North Korea – with China now giving North Korea what looks like a public guarantee of its security – whilst upsetting key US allies, with South Korea increasingly worried about US intentions and actions, and with Germany appearing to side on the Korean issue against the US with China and Russia.
Worse still it is Kim Jong-un who in President Trump’s own words has come out of this latest twist in this long-running crisis looking “very wise and well-reasoned“.
That is hardly an outcome that should please anyone in Washington.