China must help pre­vent an Asia-Pa­cific nu­clear arms race

The Australian - - THE NATION -

China’s re­sponse to North Korea’s lat­est bal­lis­tic mis­sile test and the threat it poses to the wider re­gion au­gurs badly for the an­nual gath­er­ing of world lead­ers at the UN Gen­eral Assem­bly, be­gin­ning today in New York. A Chi­nese spokesman, while not­ing Bei­jing’s sup­port for ex­panded UN sanc­tions and con­demn­ing the test, disin­gen­u­ously in­sisted that the es­ca­lat­ing cri­sis in­volved only North Korea and Wash­ing­ton — ig­nor­ing the re­al­ity that it is a global prob­lem de­mand­ing an in­ter­na­tional re­sponse. The provoca­tive tra­jec­tory of Fri­day’s test of a North Korean Hwa­song-12 in­ter­me­di­ate-range mis­sile, di­rectly over Ja­pan’s Hokkaido is­land and into the Pa­cific, 3700km from its launch site, showed the po­ten­tial for wider con­flict.

As the one coun­try with the lever­age to com­pel Py­ongyang to change course, China’s dis­sem­bling is dan­ger­ous. Bei­jing should heed US na­tional se­cu­rity ad­viser H.R. McMaster’s in­sis­tence that the cri­sis is one be­tween North Korea and the world, not only the US.

Bei­jing would also be un­wise to over­look the way Ja­pan and South Korea are dra­mat­i­cally step­ping up their mis­sile de­fence sys­tems amid in­di­ca­tions North Korea’s nu­clear ad­vances could spark the nu­cle­ari­sa­tion of the re­gion. Ja­pan is prob­a­bly ca­pa­ble of de­vel­op­ing its own nu­clear bomb within six months, while South Korea could be tempted to go down the same road. Even Viet­nam is build­ing up its weapons sys­tems. A ma­jor arms race in the Asia Pa­cific is not in China’s in­ter­ests. Nor are Kim Jong-un’s threats to “en­velop” Guam with mis­siles and his prom­ise to launch “a nu­clear counter-at­tack the US can­not cope with”. Bei­jing would also be fool­ish to ig­nore the North Korean despot’s scathing new ref­er­ence to “big power chau­vin­ists”, a term he uses to heap scorn on China.

If the UN Gen­eral Assem­bly is to make head­way in con­fronting one of the gravest crises to face the world in decades, it must en­sure in­ter­na­tional pres­sure on Py­ongyang is re­dou­bled. China’s in­ter­est lies in en­sur­ing this hap­pens and that war does not erupt on the Korean penin­sula.

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