On Friday, the Korean People’s Army of the D.P.R.K. issued a statement through a spokesperson in response to the U.S. attacks on Syria and Afghanistan as well as the war games and military presence of U.S. forces on and near the Korean peninsula. The statement warned that the country would disrupt U.S. policies in Korea “through the toughest counteraction of the army and people of the DPRK”. The statement warned that this would be “merciless” and deadly against the U.S. and its allies as a response to the “encroach[ment] upon the dignity and sovereignty of the DPRK”. (KCNA) Today, the United States responded through Vice President Mike Pence with vague threats, talking about the “strength” and “resolve” of the U.S., stating “all options are on the table” and implying through the mention of the attacks on Syria and Afghanistan that the U.S. would engage in conventional weapon attacks on the D.P.R.K. if the Korean nuclear program continued. Pence also announced that the THAAD anti-missile system would remain in operation in southern Korea as a “defensive measure”. The U.S. State Department stated that the U.S. government would continue its efforts to isolate the D.P.R.K. in order to pressure the country into relinquishing its missile defenses.
Chinese efforts to maintain status quo peace in Korea, signified by the Trump-Xi meeting in Florida and other recent discussions with the United States, and the explicit statement from Foreign Minister Wang Yi in a meeting with the French that a war would be “nothing but multiple loss” and “we call upon all the parties, no matter verbally or in action, to stop provoking and threatening each other and not to allow the situation to become irretrievable and out of control”, and the Chinese trade embargo on both governments of Korea, seem to be failing as both the D.P.R.K. and the U.S. are taking firm stands to ensure that the other is defeated or at least humiliated and is forced to relent.
In the event of a war this year, it seems that China would most likely remain out of the conflict in its efforts to maintain relations with both sides and thus maintain a stable economy. This runs contrary to the expectations of many liberals as well as leftists who imagine a firm and unbreakable alliance between China and the D.P.R.K. against the United States, an imagination that is merely a flashback to the Korean War in 1950. This imagination would have been problematic even in 1950, when it is known that the Chinese People’s Volunteer Army and the Korean People’s Army quarreled often over various issues, sometimes to the point of raising guns on each other. In 2017, there is no place for such an imagination in a reality where China has robust diplomatic and economic relations with the United States and its allies and is willing to impose an embargo on the D.P.R.K. to appease them.
This has further strengthened the United States’ position in Korea, and the U.S. government is emboldened to dictate to Pyongyang that it cannot have a nuclear defense system, even though the United States has one of the world’s largest nuclear arsenals and has been the only country to use them on civilian targets. The D.P.R.K., being an independent country and motivated to pursue its national interests, has shown that it will not seek to appease the U.S. in the way that China has, even though it is a much smaller country than China. In doing so, it is practically alone. Its Chinese “ally” is not determined to help in a defensive war. It is for this reason that the D.P.R.K. is rapidly expanding its defense system by building and testing more missiles and nuclear weapons. It is ultimately impossible for an agrarian Third World country of 25 million to match the might of the world’s sole superpower and its allies, but it could develop its defenses to a point that a war would have unbearable costs for the United States even if it wins in the end. This is the present policy of the D.P.R.K. and it has been resolute in pursuing it until now. It is this policy that will ensure over time that the D.P.R.K. does not have a future similar to Iraq, Libya, Syria and Afghanistan.