Tomorrow’s Security Council meeting on North Korea should be…interesting. Here’s why:

On Monday, North Korea launched a series of missile tests in violation of several prior UN resolutions. The USA and Japan subsequently called for an emergency meeting at the Security Council. Meanwhile, the White House announced the deployment to South Korea of a missile defense system called the Terminal High Altitude Area Defense, or THAAD. These are essentially missiles that shoot down other missiles.

Presumably, these are deployed to protect South Korea from a North Korean  missile attack. The problem is that China does not appreciate that their most significant geopolitical rival is stationing such an advanced weapons system so close to home. They have long sought to avoid the deployment of THAAD in South Korea. Over the summer, when the South Korean government initially consented to the deployment, China took immediate exception. Among other measures, Beijing cancelled several cultural exchanges and even banned Korean soap operas and K-Pop videos from showing in the (lucrative) Chinese TV markets.

But now that the THADD is actually deploying, China is contemplating a more intense response.

China is the single country in the world with the most influence over Pyongyang. This move could seriously complicate — if not fatally undermine — ongoing diplomacy at the Security Council, a process in which China plays a central role.

In recent weeks, it appeared that China was growing increasingly exasperated with Pyongyang’s flaunting of previous Security Council resolutions supported by China. This included a missile test last month, after which China took the extreme step of banning all coal imports from North Korea. This cut off one of North Korea’s most significant sources of legitimate income. It was also a sign that China was willing to get tough on North Korea in ways that it had not in the past. But it is entirely possible that Beijing finds the THAAD deployment more threatening to its core national interests than it does North Korea’s erratic behavior. If so, then Chinese cooperation on North Korean diplomacy may be much tougher to secure.

 

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