China tension over North Korea-Russia defense pact

US Deputy Secretary of State Kurt Campbell warns that Beijing ‘is somewhat anxious’ about the deal

The United States is carefully studying a new mutual defense pact between Russia and North Korea. Washington believes it could aid Pyongyang in its nuclear and long-range missile development programs.

There are also signs of tensions between North Korea and its longstanding ally, China, following the signing of the agreement.

In a keynote address on sustaining US strategy in the Indo-Pacific at the Council on Foreign Relations on Monday, Deputy Secretary of State Kurt Campbell said China is probably worried that North Korea will be encouraged to take provocative steps that could lead to a Northeast Asia crisis. He said:

I think it is fair to say that China is somewhat anxious about what’s going on between Russia and North Korea. They have indicated so in some of our interactions, and we can see some tension associated with this.

Campbell confirmed that he had a call with South Korean officials at the weekend to discuss the next steps to enhance deterrence more clearly.

Nuclear plans

“We believe that that there are discussions about what North Korea gets in exchange [from the deal with Russia] and they could be associated with its nuclear, long-range missile development plans,” he said.

Last week, Russian President Vladimir Putin visited Pyongyang for the first time in more than 20 years. US officials have said while there are limits to their partnership, it cannot be ignored.

The State Department’s second-ranking diplomat also voiced concerns over China and North Korea’s support for Moscow’s efforts to rebuild its defense industrial base since the start of its war on Ukraine.

Campbell also said Washington has “significantly démarched Chinese interlocutors” following what he called “Beijing’s military provocations” in the South and East China Sea. 

He highlighted the situation around the Second Thomas Shoal, known as Rénài Jiao in China and Ayungin Shoal in the Philippines.

China’s Navy has conducted live-fire drills in the South China Sea. Photo: PLA

According to an international tribunal’s legally binding decision issued in 2016, the Second Thomas Shoal is located within the exclusive economic zone of the Philippines. China has no lawful maritime claims to the waters around this low-tide reef. 

But Beijing has rejected the ruling. Campbell said:

The Philippines are very cautious at this juncture. They do not seek a crisis with China. They are seeking dialogue. They’re seeking discussion.

“They want the United States to be purposeful with other allies and partners about our goals to maintain peace and to send a very clear message of deterrence and reassurance,” he added.

Defense treaty

Yet Campbell stopped short of stating whether Washington would invoke a mutual defense treaty with Manila, “adding: 

I’m not going to speculate in public. I will say we have continually reaffirmed its significance and relevance to these situations at the highest level.

In a phone call with Philippine Undersecretary of Foreign Affairs Maria Theresa Lazaro, Campbell reaffirmed that Article IV of the 1951 United States-Philippines Mutual Defense Treaty extends to armed attacks on Philippine forces, public vessels, or aircraft – including those of its coast guard – in the South China Sea, according to the State Department.

Nike Ching is the Voice of America’s State Department Bureau Chief.

This article is republished courtesy of Voice of America. Read the original article here.

The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official policy of China Factor.