China’s Empty Promises to Rein in North Korea

Last Wednesday, Chinese fighters intercepted a US Air Force WC-135 Constant Phoenix in international airspace near North Korea.

 The mission of the WC-135, known as a “sniffer,” is to detect radioactivity in the atmosphere following a nuclear detonation. It appears this plane was in the region on a routine mission in anticipation of the North’s sixth detonation.

 Two Chinese Su-30 interceptors came within 150 feet of the WC-135, and one of the fighters flew inverted above the American craft. “While we are still investigating the incident, initial reports from the US aircrew characterized the intercept as unprofessional,” said a statement issued by Air Force spokeswoman Lt. Col. Lori Hodge on Friday. “The issue is being addressed with China through appropriate diplomatic and military channels.”

Among the obvious issues to be addressed are the hostile nature of the intercept and the reckless endangerment of the American crew.  

Moreover, the circumstances of China’s intercept of the WC-135 suggests Beijing is still trying to protect its client state from the US and the rest of the international community. The apparent message of the incident Wednesday is that the US Air Force should conduct no more reconnaissance of North Korea.

Indeed, the incident is totally in keeping with China’s long history of insincerity characterized by empty, false, feigned, and betrayed promises to rein in the Kim regime.

President Trump has boasted about his good relationship with his Chinese counterpart, Xi Jinping, and has often claimed that Beijing is helping the US on North Korea. “Nobody has ever seen such a positive response on our behalf from China,” the US leader said in April.

Let’s hope the administration is alert to the rather disconcerting indications to the contrary because, alas, the brazen buzzing of the WC-135 is not the only sign that China’s returned to its duplicitous ways.

On February 18th China announced it would finally comply with UN sanctions by halting purchases of Korean coal—a vital source of hard currency for the Kim family state—for the remainder of the year. Yet, it turns out that China bought coal in February after the announcement, then again in April, and again in May.

Oh, of course Beijing makes excuses and extends promises of future compliance. In the meantime, Pyongyang continues to methodically build its nuclear-delivery capacity.

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