‘Thank you, nukes’
The author is an international and security team reporter of the JoongAng Ilbo.
China is no exception. It is very interested in the Middle East situation in the aftermath of the assassination of Iranian military commander Qassim Suleimani by the United States. As the signing of the first-stage trade agreement with the United States is scheduled on Jan. 15, China is closely watching any possible impact the Middle East situation may have on their relations.
The official position of the Chinese government is criticizing the United States while urging resolution through talks. Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Geng Shuang said that China opposes using force in international relations and strongly urged the United States to maintain composure and avoid escalating tension. In fact, it was some sort of a “divine” advice urging both sides to be reserved. I got a strong impression that China was controlling its level of criticism.
Two reactions that reflect the intention of China caught my attention. A notable one was Global Times chief editor Hu Xijin’s Weibo posting.
He wrote, “It is fortunate that China was a nuclear power. Imagine otherwise,” reminding us that there are various problems between the United States and China over issues on ideology, Xinjiang, Tibet, Taiwan, Hong Kong and the South China Sea. “The United States condemned China and started a trade war, but controlled the temptation to use force on China.” If China hadn’t had nuclear weapons, China wouldn’t have been able to avoid becoming like Iran, he believes.
He went on to say, “You cannot drink or eat Dong-Feng 41 or nuclear submarines, but China is using them every day. The status of being a nuclear power and military strength gave China the right to develop independently.” He also argued that China needs to stay awake. Watching the United States using force, he was practically sending the message that China should quietly work on military buildup.
Another was an editorial in the Global Times’ Jan. 6 edition. It contained another calculation of China. The editorial pointed out that there are more losses than gains for China if the United States and Iran engaged in a full-scale war. If the Middle East falls into a crisis, it could divert the attention of the United States, but economic shock on China — the biggest buyer of oil from the Middle East — would be greater, the editorial pointed out.
Even as the United States is tied in the Middle East issue, it does not change the strategic decision of the United States, the editorial stressed. It only changed the priority to process issues. The conclusion was the advice for China to build up long-term capacity to respond to America’s pressure.
China’s calculation is likely to lead to refraining from criticizing the United States while preparing responsive measures internally. North Korean chairman of state affairs commission Kim Jong-un’s judgment will probably be similar to China’s.
JoongAng Ilbo, Jan. 7, Page 28