China’s choice

China’s choice
Singapore’s ambassador at large, Bilahari Kausikan has said that if the US makes the first strike on North Korea, then China would enter the conflict. Relations between..

Singapore’s ambassador at large, Bilahari Kausikan has said that if the US makes the first strike on North Korea, then China would enter the conflict.


Relations between US and North Korea have always been strained. The former is one of the most isolated nations in the world.

Since 2013, North Korea is under UN sanctions for conducting an underground nuclear explosion. In July 2017, North Korea successfully test launched two intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBM). The UN unanimously imposed fresh sanctions on the nation for not heeding the calls from the international community. In August 2017, North Korea fired three short-range ballistic missiles into the sea. The country followed those launches by firing a missile over Japan. In addition to testing a nuclear missile in 2017, the nation has also threatened to strike Guam, which is a US territory.

US President Donald Trump has made it clear that America would not rule out a military conflict with North Korea. He told reported in August, “North Korea best not make any more threats to the United States. They will be met with fire and fury like the world has never seen... he has been very threatening beyond a normal state. They will be met with fire, fury and frankly power the likes of which this world has never seen before.”


China is an important ally for North Korea. Much of North Korea’s economy depends on the trade relations it maintains with the former. China has requested North Korea and the US to engage in diplomatic dialogue to seek a proper resolution. It has, however, supported the UN sanctions that have been imposed on North Korea in 2017. China’s relation with North Korea is not based on friendly relations but on self preservation in geopolitical terms.

Singapore’s ambassador at large, Bilahari Kausikan was interviewed by Global Brief, an international affairs magazine. He spoke about how China is likely to respond if a war ever breaks out between North Korea and the US. When asked about how China would react if North Korea made the first move, he noted, “

Nothing. Or nothing much. Some Chinese media – notably the Global Times – said, "after Kim Jong-un had threatened to bracket Guam with missiles, that if North Korea started a war with the US, it was on its own. The Chinese know that a war with the US would jeopardize the most core of their core interests – namely, the preservation of CCP rule – because such a war cannot have a favorable outcome for China.”

However, Kausikan was quick to note that in the event US makes the first move on North Korea, China would enter the conflict. He said, “China must respond in some way if the US attacks North Korea. Beijing cannot stand idly by while the US effects regime change in a fellow Leninist state…At the same time, I think the Chinese will limit their response, as they will not want to get into a full-fledged fight with the US – a fight they know they cannot win.”


Our assessment is that China would try and prevent an all-out military conflict between North Korea and the US. The nation will be beholden to its duties as a UN member but it will be forced to lend its support to one of the only five Leninist countries in the world. If the CPC is seen as complicit in the destruction of a fellow Leninist state, then it will give the wrong signal to the Chinese people about their own system. This is far too risky for the CPC. 

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