A US aircraft carrier's presence off the Korean coast is meant to be a clear warning for Pyongyang. Jian Cai from Fudan University in Shanghai also sees it as a continuation of Washington's China containment policy.
DW: The United States has sent the aircraft carrier Carl Vinson and three guided-missile cruisers to waters near the Korean coast. Is this a sign that Washington is taking unilateral action to counter the North Korean nuclear missile threat?
Jian Cai: I do not believe that a country would go it alone just because it has launched an aircraft carrier. The measure is meant as warning to North Korea and it is supposed to put China, South Korea and Japan under pressure.
How do you view China-US relations with regard to the Washington's latest display of military force for North Korea?
China and the US have common goals, meaning the denuclearization of the Korean peninsula. But the two countries have differing opinions on how this goal can be achieved. China is against exerting pressure or displaying military force to stop North Korea's nuclear program. This position has been clearly conveyed as one of the outcomes of the meeting between [US President] Donald Trump and [Chinese President] Xi Jinping.
Also, it must be said that the US response to China's ascent has always been containment. That did not change in the Obama era. That is exactly why the US seeks a military collaboration with Japan and South Korea and thus uses North Korea as a welcome occasion to do so. Washington uses Japan's and South Korea's fear of an erratic North Korea as psychological leverage to build its military alliance.
The US is also using the crisis on the Korean peninsula to station modern weapons in the region. That is a threat for China. The US declared objective is to motivate China to cooperate with the US in many matters, like economic ones. But I do not believe that the US wants to fight a war in East Asia.
President Trump also demonstrated military muscle in Syria. The missile strike on a Syrian airbase was seen as signal to North Korea as well. Is this justified?
[Syrian President Bashar] al-Assad can only maintain power with the help of Russia. He is not in the position to endanger the US or Israel in any way, let alone retaliate. It is an altogether different situation in North Korea. If US forces do not succeed in destroying North Korea's weapons arsenal in one strike, then US troops in South Korea and Japan, as well as the two US allies, would be face a great threat. To put it simply, if the first strike does not succeed, it would be a disaster.
On Monday, China's chief negotiator for North Korea, Wu Dawei, conducted talks in South Korea. Both countries have threated to impose tougher sanctions if Korea conducted more missile or nuclear tests. From China's viewpoint, what can diplomacy achieve?
North Korea's provocations violate UN resolutions and damage China's strategic interests. And they have also made Washington's China containment policy easier. As a responsible large country, China wants to fulfil its duties as a peacekeeper, yet also keep its own interests in mind. At the same time, China is dependent on international consent to keep North Korea in check and avoid greater damage.
In international crises, China is guided by experience and not ideology. China is against North Korea's nuclear armament but also against provocations or joint military maneuvers carried out by Americans and South Koreans or the US missile defense system THAAD in South Korea.
Jian Cai is an assistant professor at the Institute of International Studies at Fudan University in Shanghai. His fields of study include North Korea, South Korea and bilateral relations between China and the two Korean states.