If ever there was a time for China to reign in its little brother, North Korea, it would be now, as the peninsula edges "within an inch of war." Unfortunately, China isn't doing that. In fact, it's condoning Pyongyang's behavior, and as we're finding out this morning, that behavior is increasingly reckless.
On Tuesday, a "senior official" told Reuters' Benjamin Kang Lim that North Korea has "almost completed" preparations for what will be its third nuclear test. "Soon. Preparations are almost complete," said the source , who has some credibility given that he correctly predicted North Korea's 2006 nuclear test. The provocative report comes just after Pyongyang vowed to reduce the South to "ashes in three to four minutes" Monday. How does China respond? By giving the country a big fat kiss.
Yesterday, Chinese president Hu Jintao met with a top Korean envoy and publicly-backed North Korea's young leader. "Hu sent his congratulations to North Korea's young new leader Kim Jong Un on his assuming the title of Workers' Party first secretary and said strengthening ties with North Korea was a key priority for China's ruling communists," reported the Associated Press. On CCTV, Hu is quoted saying "We will carry on this tradition ... boost strategic communication and coordination on key international issues and work for peace and stability on the Korean Peninsula." It was an important show of support given that China is the North's most important diplomatic ally and its lifeline to economic assistance. But diplomatic and economic assistance isn' the only means in which China is helping the country.
In another exclusive from Reuters this morning, Louis Charbonneau uncovers a press release from a Chinese firm boasting about its support of North Korea's missile program. The firm, Hubei Sanjiang Space Wanshan Special Vehicle Co., is believed to have sold the chasis of a transport vehicle used to carry missiles to Pyongyang. In the release, it says the delivery of the "largest Self-propelled Overload Special Off-road Transporter in China" happend on May 17, 2011. "One diplomat said intelligence officials were '99 percent certain' the press release referred to the vehicle the North Koreans used to transport a missile in a recent military parade," Reuters reports. U.N. diplomats are reportedly looking into whether the release reveals that China violated the U.N. ban on selling Pyongyang materials that will aid its ballistic missile program.
All of this diplomatic and military support is of course troubling because, as Defense Secretary Leon Pannetta said last week, the two sides are "within an inch of war." And you don't have to take his word for it. Signs that Seoul is taking the North's threat seriously are everywhere. "Police say they have increased patrols around headquarters of nine conservative media outlets in Seoul after North Korea vowed to soon carry out a 'special military action' on them by 'unprecedented means and methods,'" Voice of America reports today. "[Foreign ministry spokesman] Cho says South Korea's government and military are strengthening their security postures and are on alert to prepare for any situation." China has long wanted to avoid conflict on the peninsula for fear of a mass migration of North Korean refugees into its territory. For that reason or the pursuit of peace alone, it seems unconscionable that it continues to give Pyongyang a pass.