China will agree to punitive sanctions against North Korea as the United Nations Security Council meets overnight, but is likely to stop short of the measures the United States is demanding, predicts a senior Chinese analyst.
China faces a “severe predicament” as the Security Council prepares to meet behind closed doors to thrash out a response to North Korea’s game-changing Intercontinental Ballistic Missile test, said Shi Yinhong, professor of international relations at Renmin University.
The Trump administration on Wednesday demanded global action to stop a global threat, as North Korea’s latest missile was confirmed to have the potential to reach Alaska and Darwin.
For much of the year the United States and its allies, including Australia, have insisted that China, as North Korea’s largest trading partner, holds the key to bringing its rogue neighbour to heel.
Professor Shi, who is close to Beijing’s State Council, said China is concerned that if it uses its biggest stick – cutting the oil pipeline with North Korea – it will have no options left if Pyongyang crosses the next red line.
“China will agree to take punitive action. The problem is what is left for China to push North Korea on? It is becoming more and more limited. The problem China faces is to use up all of its means,” he said.
In February, China stopped importing coal from North Korea, in line with UN sanctions imposed when the regime conducted a nuclear test last year.
There have been unconfirmed reports in the past week that a major Chinese oil company, China National Petroleum Corp, has already suspended fuel sales to Pyongyang because of concern it wouldn’t be paid.
The US, South Korea and Japan have urged China to go further in any new round of UN sanctions, which will almost certainly be triggered by the ICBM launch.
“China may agree to some measures proposed by the US. But cutting off the oil supply, for a while or on a permanent basis, if China uses that, what does it use next time?” Professor Shi said.
Russian President Vladimir Putin, left, greets Chinese President Xi Jinping during a meeting in the Kremlin on July 4. Photo: AP
A joint statement issued by China and Russia as the two countries’ presidents met in Moscow didn’t mean China was less likely to cooperate with the US over North Korea, and was the result of the timing of the ICBM launch, he said.
China and Russia condemned the ICBM missile test as “unacceptable” and called for North Korea to freeze its missile tests, but also for the US and South Korea to stop holding large-scale military exercises on the Korean Peninsula as a precursor to multilateral talks.
“Everyone should start paying for missile defence. We need a roof.”
The US and South Korea responded with a large missile drill.
Robert Kelly, associate professor of international relations at Pusan National University, said the focus needs to be on missile defence shields because there is no possibility of the US taking a military strike against Pyongyang without unacceptable collateral damage to South Korea.
North Korea’s KR shows what was said to be North Korean leader Kim Jong-un watching the launch of a Hwasong-14 ICBM. Photo: AP
“Donald Trump never should have said ‘strategic patience is over‘ because it created the perception that kinetic action is on the horizon,” said Mr Kelly.
“The risk of war is huge. They are not going to do that,” he said.
The only realistic options were sanctions, missile defence and China, he said.
“The big step should be more money for missile defence. Everyone should start paying for missile defence. We need a roof,” he said.
South Korean President Moon Jae-in could support China’s “double suspension” proposal. Photo: Getty Images
Mr Kelly said South Korea and the US had been holding military drills for decades because of the risk of war with the proximity of North Korea’s 1.5 million-strong army and large artillery positioned on the South Korean border.
He said South Korean President Moon Jae-in, who favours dialogue with North Korea, could support China’s “double suspension” proposal, but he doubted there was enough trust in North Korea for the US to agree to a freeze.
Leonid Petrov, a North Korea expert at ANU’s College of Asia and the Pacific, said that unless the US and South Korea suspend military exercises “the arms race will continue”.
“If the US and South Korea de-escalated, then North Korea would be able to consider freezing,” he said. “North Korea sees the lessons of Saddam and Gaddafi and sees giving up nuclear weapons would be suicidal.”
By Kirsty Needham
Sydney Morning Herald