all eyes on north korea
Officially, China is expressing its hope that the United States and North Korea "will be cautious on their words and actions, and do things that help to alleviate tensions and enhance mutual trust, rather than walk on the old pathway of taking turns in shows of strength, and upgrading the tensions," in the words of Foreign Minister spokesman Geng Shuang. "The current situation on the Korean Peninsula is complicated and sensitive." But an editorial Friday in the semi-official Global Times newspaper warns North Korea that if it attacks the U.S., China won't come to its aid.
Both President Trump and Kim Jong Un are playing a "reckless game," and China should make clear that "when their actions jeopardize China's interests, China will respond with a firm hand," the Global Times editorial says. "China should also make clear that if North Korea launches missiles that threaten U.S. soil first and the U.S. retaliates, China will stay neutral," it adds. "If the U.S. and South Korea carry out strikes and try to overthrow the North Korean regime and change the political pattern of the Korean Peninsula, China will prevent them from doing so."
"The key point is in the first half of the sentence; China opposes North Korea testing missiles in the waters around Guam," Cheng Xiaohe, a North Korea expert at Renmin University of China in Beijing, tells The Washington Post. "Secondly, in a half-official way, China is starting to review and clarify the 1961 treaty," the Sino-North Korean Treaty of Friendship, Cooperation, and Mutual Assistance, which the editorial mentions. The treaty obliges China to step in and help Pyongyang if it is subject to unprovoked aggression, but perhaps not if North Korea shoots first. China has become increasingly frustrated by Kim's regime, and there is some talk in China of scrapping or at least clarifying the 1961 treaty to help curb Kim's nuclear ambitions.