February 7, 2016

China's not-so-direct response

For the last couple of days, there have been increased coverage of the movements of North Korea by the South Korean media. And, today, I received breaking news alert from both my BBC and CNN news apps, both talking about how North Korea changed its rocket launch window from February 8-25 to February 7-14. 

This comes after the initial announcement by the North on their intent to launch a satellite into orbit, which has been viewed by other nations as a front for their ballistic missile test. 

As a Korean citizen currently living in Korea, this is pretty scary news. I read in Friday’s Chosun Ilbo — a conservative Korean newspaper — that satellite photography showed that the North has installed a viewing area for Kim Jong-un, the First Secretary of the Workers’ Party of Korea, at the missile launching site. This is not a good sign because the Korean government has translated this as the North making legit preparations for the launch. 

In the midst of all of this guess work and predictions about an ultra-unstable country, Yonhap news reported on Saturday that Chinese President Xi Jinping told President Park over the phone that there should not be nuclear weapons nor war on the Korean Peninsula. This is the first time the two leaders spoke since the North’s nuclear test conducted in January. While Beijing condemned the North’s nuclear test, there hasn’t been a strong response from the country about how to deal with the North. 

Xi Jinping was quoted to have stated, “Under any circumstances, China will consistently make efforts to realize Korean-Peninsula denuclearisation, safeguard peace and stability on the peninsula and resolve problems through dialogue and negotiations”. 

Overall, the conversation is a bit vague since, according to the ministry, Xi didn’t directly mention North Korea. But I would say that much of diplomacy can be described as being vague. 

It is assuring that China maintains good relations with South Korea, seeing that China has huge leverage over North Korea in that China provides the North with food aid and energy. And so this telephone conversation seems like a pretty big deal. President Park has done a great job keeping great relations with China (plus the U.S. at the same time!). I'm not sure how much China -- or rather Xi Jinping -- is willing to push the North, seeing as China fears the falling of North Korea would only increase the leverage of the United States on the Asia continent. But, I guess only time will tell, right? 

And, just in case anyone that is reading this is thinking that the entire country is under a state of emergency because of North Korea, that is currently not the case. While I was living in the States, every time any Western news agency talked about the Korean peninsula and that fact that, since the Korean War ended in an armistice, the two polar ends were still in a state of war, I was pretty freaked out. I mean really scared. I was even worried to move back to Korea because it was right after the bombardment of Yeonpyeong. 

But, oh boy, was I wrong. I guess it’s because skirmishes between the North and the South happen so often, the people of the South usually don’t pay much attention to it. Places like Hongdae and Gangnam are filled with people, regardless of what is happening. 

Now that I’m used to how South Korean think, I’m not sure how seriously I should be looking at the missile issue with the North right now. But, we’ll see how the issue unfolds over the weekend, I guess.

Until then, it’s only guesswork. 

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Maira Gall