China says it’s done its part to rein in North Korea—now the US and South Korea should step up

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The question of whether Beijing would go along with much harsher sanctions against North Korea was answered this weekend. China voted in favor of sanctions that promise to cut North Korea’s annual export revenue by a third, going along with the other members of the UN Security Council.

But now, China argues, it’s time for other nations to do their part. A page-one editorial (link in Chinese) in the overseas edition of the state-run People’s Daily argues the US and South Korea should suspend military exercises in the area. And North Korea, for its part, should stop launching missiles and conducting nuclear tests. Then all parties should come to the negotiating table.

The ”dual suspension” argument was first floated in March, when foreign minister Wang Yi spoke to reporters in Beijing. But now, significantly, it’s appearing on the front page of China’s main government-mouthpiece publication. To the administration of US president Donald Trump, who’s been blaming Beijing for not doing enough to rein in Pyongyang, it seems to be saying, the ball is in your court.

“China again played the role of a responsible major power,” it reads.

And now that it’s done so, Beijing is also suggesting, it’s time for South Korea, too, to do its part. That means, in China’s mind, no longer allowing the US to station a Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (Thaad) antimissile system on its soil. China has long argued the system’s powerful radar penetrates into China’s space and disrupts the balance of power.

“South Korea’s security cannot be built on a foundation of China not being secure,” Wang said over the weekend.

Whether China really expects the US and the Koreas to “do their parts” is doubtful. Nikki Haley, the US ambassador to the UN, told the UN Security Council on Saturday that the US would continue its annual joint military exercises with South Korea, and “take prudent defensive measures to protect ourselves and our allies.”

And the editorial itself sounded a resigned note about what will happen now that the sanctions have been passed: “Judging from past experience, the North Korean side will prepare a tough response to the resolution, and the US, Japan, and other countries will use the chance to conduct military activities, which will directly cause the situation to escalate.”

But it does seem clear that China expects an end to the pressure it’s faced to do more to rein in North Korea, now that it’s approved the sanctions.