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Wendy Wu — South China Morning Post Dec 16, 2017

South Korean-U.S. military drills. Click to enlarge

China must be ready for a war on the Korean peninsula, with the risk of conflict higher than ever before, Chinese government advisers and a retired senior military officer warned on Saturday.

Beijing, once seen as Pyongyang’s key ally with sway over its neighbour, was losing control of the situation, they warned.

“Conditions on the peninsula now make for the biggest risk of a war in decades,” said Renmin University international relations professor Shi Yinhong, who also advises the State Council, China’s cabinet.

Shi said US President Donald Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong-un were locked in a vicious cycle of threats and it was already too late for China to avert it. At best, Beijing could stall a full-blown conflict.

“North Korea is a time bomb. We can only delay the explosion, hoping that by delaying it, a time will come to remove the detonator,” Shi said on the sidelines of a Beijing conference on the crisis.

Addressing the conference, Wang Hongguang, former deputy commander of the Nanjing Military Region, warned that war could break out on the Korean peninsula at any time from now on until March when South Korea and the United States held annual military drills.

“It is a highly dangerous period,” Wang said. “Northeast China should mobilise defences for war.”

Yang Xiyu, a senior fellow at the China Institute of International Studies affiliated with China’s foreign ministry, said conditions on the peninsula were at their most perilous in half a century.

“No matter whether there is war or peace, regretfully, China has no control, dominance or even a voice on the issue,” he said.

China might already be preparing for the worst.

Last week, Jilin Daily, the official newspaper of the province bordering North Korea, published a full page of advice for residents on how to respond to a nuclear attack.

A document purportedly from telecom operator China Mobile about plans to set up five refugee camps in Jilin’s Changbai county also surfaced online last week.

Wang said the Jilin Daily article was a “signal to the country to be prepared for a coming war”.

He said China was also worried about the threat North Korea’s frequent nuclear tests were posing to unstable geological structures in the region.

Nanjing University professor Zhu Feng said that no matter how minor the possibility, China should be prepared psychologically and practically for “a catastrophic nuclear conflict, nuclear fallout or a nuclear explosion”.

“Why do we always act like ostriches? Why do we always believe a war won’t occur?” Zhu said.

“What China needs is a sense of urgency about its declining influence in strategy related to the peninsula and the way it brings down China’s status and role in East Asian security issues.”

He also said Kim’s failure to meet Chinese envoy Song Tao during his trip to Pyongyang last month was a “humiliation” for China.

Meanwhile at the United Nations in New York, US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson called on China and Russia to increase their efforts to halt Pyongyang’s nuclear programme.

Tillerson also backtracked on his previous unconditional offer for talks by saying that Washington would not negotiate with Pyongyang until it stopped “threatening behaviours”.

North Korean ambassador to the UN Ja Song-nam accused the United States, Japan and the United Nations Security Council of waging a hostile campaign to stop Pyongyang from gaining nuclear weapons that it saw as necessary to defend itself.

Renmin University professor Shi said hopes for peace could not rest on Kim and Trump, and China and Russia should work together to argue against war.

In a meeting with South Korean President Moon Jae-in in Beijing, Chinese President Xi Jinping said war on the peninsula was not acceptable.

This article appeared in the South China Morning Post print edition as: China urged to prepare for war on the Korean peninsula.

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