Saturday, March 2, 2024

New North Korean rocket launch system poses new puzzle for China

Must read

Ryu Yong-wook , a China and Korea affairs specialist at the National University of Singapore’s Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy, said the development would further advance Pyongyang’s missile and delivery capabilities and strengthen its offensive capacity.

‘Political time bomb’: North Korean workers reportedly riot in China over wages

“It will increase the military tensions in the Korean peninsula at a time when there is a deadlock in inter-Korean relations and will likely intensify an arms race in a region that is already fraught with multiple flashpoints,” he said.

North Korea has in recent months ramped up its missiles and weapons tests, including a test launch of a new strategic cruise missile – the Pulhwasal-3-31 – from a submarine last month.

But more than just boosting North Korea’s military capabilities, “China is in a tricky situation”, said Ryu.

On one hand, China wants stability on the Korean peninsula, which pushes it to limit Pyongyang’s “aggressive and belligerent behaviour”.

But on the other hand, against the backdrop of a deepening US-China rivalry and greater security cooperation between the US and South Korea, the “strategic utility of North Korea increases for Beijing”.

North Korean leader Kim Jong Un watches a test of the Pulhwasal-3-31 missile. Photo: AFP

“Hence, China might become more tolerant of the North’s wayward external behaviour,” Ryu said.

Sunday’s weapons test came weeks after officials from China and North Korea met.

Pyongyang has accused Washington and Seoul of escalating tensions with large-scale military drills. Last month it said it had tested an underwater nuclear attack drone in response to a joint naval exercise between the United States, South Korea and Japan.

Ryu suggested that the latest development may be related to the recent warming of North Korea’s ties with Russia.

He said North Korea may have received missile-related technology from Russia in exchange for supplying weapons and ammunition. Pyongyang has previously denied US claims it has been providing artillery shells and rockets for use in the war against Ukraine.

“If so, this may be a concern to Beijing, as it suggests that Pyongyang is being more autonomous from Beijing’s influence,” Ryu said.

At last, Chinese and South Korean foreign ministers talk amid tension

He suggested that China would start offering economic incentives to entice North Korea if it thought Pyongyang was moving away from its orbit, adding that one indicator would be an increase in the number of official interactions between both sides.

“Whether North Korea will stick to its pledge to maintain regional peace is an irrelevant point, given its past record. Words are cheap for North Korea,” he said.

What was important, Ryu added, was whether North Korea was in a position to start a major military conflict, which would depend on support from China and Russia – something neither would currently see as being in their interests.

Latest article