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Beijing seems to accept idea of surgical strike by U.S. on North Korea

Apr 23,2017
China's state-run newspaper said Saturday that China would not engage militarily if the U.S. makes a surgical strike on North Korea’s nuclear facility, noting it would only resort to diplomatic channels to oppose such a move.

Beijing’s position was stated in an editorial in the state-run Global Times, a tabloid controlled by China’s Communist Party.

“If Pyongyang's unwavering pursuit of its nuclear program continues and Washington launches a military attack on North Korea's nuclear facilities as a result, Beijing should oppose the move by diplomatic channels, rather than get involved through military action."

But Beijing did caution that the U.S. should take into consideration heavy casualties that could arise should Pyongyang counter such an attack by firing artillery shells into Seoul and its surrounding area, where nearly 20 million people reside.

“Such a revenge attack would be too heavy for Washington and Seoul to withstand,” it stated gravely.

China’s stance is seen as a message to Pyongyang that it will not acknowledge it as a nuclear-armed state.
It is also seen as renewed pressure on Pyongyang to not perform a sixth nuclear weapons test, which it seems to be preparing for.

In another warning message to the North, China said it would “dramatically” reduce its oil supply to energy-hungry Pyongyang if the regime disregards international warnings and goes ahead with an underground nuclear test. Pyongyang is heavily reliant on Beijing. More than 90 percent of its petroleum is imported from its Communist ally.

China signaled it would not completely halt oil exports to Pyongyang, saying it would keep sending just enough that ordinary North Koreans would not “experience a humanitarian disaster.” It added that the size of its reduction of oil exports could be addressed by the UN Security Council.

Beijing also warned that if Chinese living in areas close to the site of the underground nuclear test were affected by any kind of leakage or pollution, it could take “any reaction” that would "alter China’s handling of North Korea’s nuclear ambitions," without elaborating how.

A government official told the JoongAng Ilbo on Sunday that such messages to Pyongyang were entirely new. “What has been noteworthy in recent coverage by the Global Times is that China should cut off its petroleum supply to North Korea in case of the latter’s further provocation and that it could withstand a U.S. military action to some degree, both of which are stances that have long been considered taboo,” said the official, who asked to be unnamed.

China, however, warned of its full-scale military intervention if Washington and Seoul advance ground troops beyond the inter-Korean border to take over its Communist ally, saying it would not “sit back and watch foreign military forces overthrow the Pyongyang regime.”

The editorial said China would “sound its own alarms and ramp up their military immediately” if U.S. and South Korean forces advance through the demilitarized zone with a clear mission to dethrone North Korean leader Kim Jong-un and overthrow his regime.

Beijing’s latest signals on North Korea came as uncertainty has risen with growing signs of the North’s preparation for a sixth nuclear test.
Adding to geopolitical uncertainty, U.S. President Donald Trump said Thursday “some very unusual moves” had been made by China over the past several hours without elaborating further. His remark followed CNN’s report earlier in the day that the Chinese air force put land-attack, cruise-missile-capable bombers on “high alert” on Wednesday in preparation for a potential contingency in North Korea, citing a U.S. defense official.

China denied it put its military on high alert because of North Korea, saying its forces were maintaining “standard operational readiness and normal training” along China’s border with North Korea, according to a statement issued by the National Defense Ministry in Beijing.

BY KANG JIN-KYU [kang.jinku@joongang.co.kr]