China’s stern warn­ing:

Bei­jing says it won’t come to Py­ongyang’s aid if it strikes at U.S. soil.

The Washington Post - - FRONT PAGE - BY SI­MON DENYER AND AMANDA ERICKSON Erickson re­ported from Washington. Shirley Feng in Bei­jing and Brian Mur­phy in Washington con­trib­uted to this re­port.

bei­jing — China won’t come to North Korea’s aid if it launches mis­siles threat­en­ing U.S. soil and there is re­tal­i­a­tion, a state-owned news­pa­per warned Fri­day — but it would in­ter­vene if Washington strikes first.

The Global Times news­pa­per is not an of­fi­cial mouth­piece of the Com­mu­nist Party, but in this case its ed­i­to­rial prob­a­bly does re­flect gov­ern­ment pol­icy, ex­perts said.

The stern Chi­nese warn­ing came as gov­ern­ment lead­ers and politi­cians around the world urged calm af­ter a se­ries of threats and coun­terthreats by the U.S. and North Korean gov­ern­ments. The brinkman­ship has spread jit­ters and weighed on global fi­nan­cial mar­kets, which were down Fri­day for a fourth con­sec­u­tive day.

Ger­man Chan­cel­lor An­gela Merkel on Fri­day called the es­ca­lat­ing rhetoric “the wrong an­swer.” She pledged her coun­try’s sup­port for “any non­mil­i­tary solutions,” telling re­porters in Ber­lin, “I don’t see a mil­i­tary so­lu­tion to this con­flict.”

Rus­sia’s for­eign min­is­ter, Sergei Lavrov, said there had been an “over­whelm­ing amount” of “bel­liger­ent rhetoric” from Washington and Py­ongyang. “The side that is stronger and clev­erer” will take the first step to defuse ten­sions, he said.

China has re­peat­edly warned both Washington and Py­ongyang not to do any­thing that raises ten­sions or causes in­sta­bil­ity on the Korean Penin­sula, and it strongly re­it­er­ated that mes­sage Fri­day.

“The cur­rent sit­u­a­tion on the Korean Penin­sula is com­pli­cated and sen­si­tive,” For­eign Min­istry spokesman Geng Shuang said in a state­ment.

“China hopes that all rel­e­vant par­ties will be cau­tious in 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,” he said.

In an ed­i­to­rial, the Global Times said China should make it clear to both sides that “when their ac­tions jeop­ar­dize China’s in­ter­ests, China will re­spond with a firm hand.”

“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 added. “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.”

On Tues­day, Pres­i­dent Trump threat­ened to re­spond to fur­ther threats from North Korea by un­leash­ing “fire and fury like the world has never seen.” Py­ongyang in turn said it could strike the U.S. ter­ri­tory of Guam in the West­ern Pa­cific with bal­lis­tic mis­siles. In his lat­est salvos in the war of words, Trump said Fri­day that the U.S. mil­i­tary was “locked and loaded” and that North Korea would “truly re­gret it” if it at­tacked Guam.

The saber-rat­tling has had an im­pact on world fi­nan­cial mar­kets. Main in­dexes were down Fri­day in Frank­furt and Paris, and Lon­don’s FTSE 100 touched its low­est level since May. Asian mar­kets also slumped, in­clud­ing South Korea’s KOSPI, drop­ping 1.8 per­cent. The Dow Jones in­dus­trial av­er­age was largely flat af­ter the open­ing bell.

The Chi­nese pa­per’s com­ments re­flect the 1961 Sino-North Korean Treaty of Friend­ship, Co­op­er­a­tion, and Mu­tual As­sis­tance, which obliges China to in­ter­vene if North Korea is sub­ject to un­pro­voked ag­gres­sion — but not nec­es­sar­ily if Py­ongyang starts a war. China has been a key ally of North Korea, help­ing prop up its econ­omy as it has been hit with re­peated rounds of in­ter­na­tional sanc­tions.

“The key point is in the first half of the sen­tence: China op­poses North Korea test­ing mis­siles in the wa­ters around Guam,” said Cheng Xiaohe, a North Korea ex­pert at Ren­min Univer­sity of China in Bei­jing.

With the sit­u­a­tion on the Korean Penin­sula slid­ing dan­ger­ously to­ward the point of no re­turn, Chi­nese me­dia are start­ing to de­clare their po­si­tions on any po­ten­tial war, he said. “Se­condly, in a half-of­fi­cial way, China is start­ing to review and clar­ify the 1961 treaty.”

China has be­come deeply frus­trated with the regime in Py­ongyang and gen­uinely wants to see a de­nu­cle­arized Korean Penin­sula. But it has al­ways re­fused to do any­thing that might desta­bi­lize or top­ple the lead­er­ship of a coun­try that has long been both ally and buf­fer state.

That’s be­cause Bei­jing does not want to see a uni­fied Korean state al­lied to the United States on its bor­der. Hun­dreds of thou­sands of Chi­nese sol­diers died dur­ing the 1950-1953 Korean War to pre­vent that from hap­pen­ing.

So for now, the cur­rent un­easy sta­tus quo for China still seems bet­ter than the al­ter­na­tives.

That is dou­bly true ahead of a Com­mu­nist Party congress in the fall, at which Pres­i­dent Xi Jin­ping wants to project an aura of sta­bil­ity and con­trol as he aims to con­sol­i­date his power at the start of a sec­ond five-year term.

Nev­er­the­less, ex­perts said de­bate is un­der­way be­hind the scenes in China about its sup­port for the North Korean regime.

In an ar­ti­cle on the Fi­nan­cial Times China web­site in May, for ex­am­ple, Tong Zhi­wei, a law pro­fes­sor at the East China Univer­sity of Po­lit­i­cal Science and Law in Shang­hai, ar­gued that China should make ter­mi­nat­ing the 1961 treaty a near-term diplo­matic goal, be­cause North Korea, also known as the DPRK, has used it as cover to de­velop its nu­clear pro­gram and avoid pun­ish­ment.

That, he wrote, was not in China’s in­ter­ests.

“In the past 57 years, the treaty has strongly pro­tected the se­cu­rity of the DPRK and peace on the Korean Penin­sula, but it has also been used by the North Korean au­thor­i­ties to pro­tect their in­ter­na­tional wrong­ful acts from pun­ish­ment,” he wrote.

China was not the only coun­try con­sid­er­ing its treaty obli­ga­tions if the U.S.-North Korean rhetoric es­ca­lates to war.

In a state­ment to the ra­dio sta­tion 3AW, Aus­tralian Prime Min­is­ter Mal­colm Turn­bull said Fri­day that if North Korea launches an at­tack on the United States, Aus­tralia would have Amer­ica’s back.

“Amer­ica stands by its al­lies, in­clud­ing Aus­tralia of course, and we stand by the United States,” Turn­bull said, ac­cord­ing to the Aus­tralian Broad­cast­ing Corp. “So be very, very clear on that. If there’s an at­tack on the U.S., the ANZUS Treaty would be in­voked and Aus­tralia would come to the aid of the United States, as Amer­ica would come to our aid if we were at­tacked.”

ANZUS stands for the Aus­tralia New Zealand United States treaty, a col­lec­tive se­cu­rity pact dat­ing to 1951.

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