The North Korean young’un, Kim Jong-Un, is making his bid to sit at the big people’s table. His country has just announced its third test of a nuclear bomb, this one considerably larger than those that preceded it (although still about half as powerful as the bomb dropped on Hiroshima in 1945).
The test inspired the usual round of diplomatic condemnation, employing rhetoric that was calibrated to communicate exactly the preferred degree of offense. The Obama administration described the test as a “highly provocative act”; the U.N.’s International Atomic Energy Agency used the somewhat less critical “deeply regrettable,” while China merely communicated its “staunch opposition” to the test.
China probably does staunchly oppose having a half-mad nuclear upstart on its border, but its other options are even less attractive. The rest of the world already refuses to do business with North Korea, and China could follow suit by cutting off badly needed oil and other supplies to its southern neighbor. However, doing so might greatly increase the flow of refugees across its border and could destabilize the Kim regime.
China has no interest whatsoever in provoking that degree of turmoil on its border, particularly when it would likely end in a reunified Korea under a U.S.-aligned government.
And while some American politicians may make noises about needing a more aggressive response, that too is just noise. International sanctions on North Korea have already been turned up to “11″; you can’t cut trade to less than nothing. And if you employ any sort of military option, you do so knowing that it will probably result in all-out war leading to the death of millions.
Like the Chinese, we have concluded that as bad as it is, the status quo is still better than the likely alternative.
– Jay Bookman