As tensions rise to historic heights on the Korean Peninsula, both the U.S. and China have begun taking unprecedented steps to prepare for the worst-case scenario.
Across North Korea’s border in China’s Jilin province, state-run media ran a full-page instructional package on how to survive a nuclear blast. The page doesn’t mention North Korea, but it doesn’t need to.
Also new in Jilin are five new refugee camps built “because the situation on the China-North Korea border has intensified lately,” a leaked document seen by The New York Times said. The camps could accommodate thousands of North Koreans who might pour across the border in a time of war.
China not just worried about refugees
But China’s preparations don’t just indicate a defensive, wait-and-see approach. China’s air force engaged in exercises along “routes and areas it has never flown before” earlier this month, with surveillance aircraft over the Yellow and East seas near the Korean Peninsula, according to the South China Morning Post.
“The timing of this high-profile announcement by the PLA is also a warning to Washington and Seoul not to provoke Pyongyang any further,” Li Jie, a military expert based in Beijing, told the Post, using the abbreviation for the Chinese People’s Liberation Army.
In addition to flexing its military muscle against the U.S., China has been increasingly assertive in the South China Sea. It has also dispatched military spy planes to encircle Taiwan and provide up-to-date info, which the Macau-based military observer Antony Wong Dong told the Post was “very unusual.”
U.S. preparing to denuclearize North Korea, possibly by force
The U.S. appears resolutely determined to put the pressure on North Korea.
South Korean officials have been talking up a pause in military drills in hopes that it will lead to a peaceful Winter Olympics in February, but the U.S. has yet to agree to that pause.
Though December is normally rather quiet for military drills, the U.S. this month brought in a record number of stealth aircraft to train up on an air war against North Korea.
Immediately after the drill, which featured a marked increase in simulated bomb runs on North Korean targets, the U.S. and South Korea reportedly engaged in drills to infiltrate North Korea and neutralize its weapons of mass destruction.
At a speech at the Atlantic Council last week, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said the U.S. was preparing plans to seize loose nuclear weapons, should North Korea somehow collapse or become unstable.
President Donald Trump’s national security adviser, H.R. McMaster, also flatly rejected the clearest path to peace by saying the U.S. would never accept a nuclear-armed North Korea. He recommitted the U.S. to using force if necessary.
“We’re not committed to a peaceful resolution — we’re committed to a resolution,” McMaster told the BBC. “We have to be prepared, if necessary, to compel the denuclearization of North Korea without the cooperation of that regime.”
The Trump administration’s approach to North Korea explicitly calls for every means of pressure to bear down on the country. Threats of war, military deployments, increased drills, stealthier and more lethal weapons systems, sanctions, and even a possible shipping blockade could become a daily fact of life for Pyongyang under Trump.
But North Korea is not the only one to have noticed the U.S.’s new approach. China has closely watched the U.S. ratchet up tensions along its border, and its recent military movements reflect a country that is considering all-out war a possibility.