China Sides with North Korea

“No one should be allowed to throw a region and even the whole world into chaos for selfish gains,” said President Xi Jinping on Sunday at a regional forum hosted by Beijing.

Immediately, global media interpreted the remarks as a rebuke of North Korea. The New York Times, for instance, called Xi’s words “an indirect but clear criticism of China’s longtime ally.”

Has Beijing finally made the switch from supporting Pyongyang to siding with the international community?

Most everyone thinks so. After all, who else could Xi have been referring to on Sunday?  The North Koreans in recent weeks repudiated the armistice that ended fighting in the Korean War, announced they were ready to launch a pre-emptive nuclear strike on the United States, and talked almost daily in apocalyptic terms.

They also effectively closed the last cooperative project been the two Koreas and deployed two intermediate-range ballistic missiles on their mobile launchers, getting them into position for firing. No wonder White House spokesman Jay Carney welcomed the comments from China’s new leader.

Not so fast. On Monday, Foreign Ministry spokesman Hong Lei refused to confirm that Xi had North Korea in mind when he uttered those words.

And the following day, People’s Daily, the Communist Party’s flagship publication, issued a stinging commentary, leaving no doubt who Xi thought was the culprit.

“Some country has spent hundreds of billions of U.S. dollars creating a situation that cannot be resolved and has eventually withdrawn in a disorganized manner at the same time causing a financial crisis in its own country,” stated a commentary titled “Who Has the Intention to Create Chaos for the World for Selfish Gain?” “Look back on the world’s security situation to the beginning of the new century. There are many ‘hot spots’ and ‘chaotic spots.’  The first of them are Afghanistan and Iraq.”

The People’s Daily commentary not only clarifies Mr. Xi’s intent, it also puts the movement of Chinese forces on the border with North Korea in an ominous light. Since the middle of last month, the People’s Liberation Army has been mobilizing troops, planes, and ships there. The border forces once were -- and may now still be -- at the highest state of alert. There are also reports of Chinese live-fire drills in the area.

Analysts have assumed that the Chinese mobilization was intended to intimidate the North Koreans, but, in light of Xi Jinping’s comments on Sunday, perhaps the military movements are a warning to America and South Korea instead.