China backs sanctions to ward off US
Beijing: China's support for tougher sanctions against North Korea has been prompted in part by concerns of an evolving US-anchored missile defence system on its borders, say Chinese and Western analysts.
The missile defence systems involve new land- and sea-based radar systems, missile interceptors and intelligence sharing between the US and its regional allies which is aimed at shooting down a North Korean missile during the relatively low-velocity launch phase.
Analysts note that these systems could also be used to shoot down missiles launched from China's eastern regions.
Australia is building three air warfare destroyers with AEGIS radar and missile control systems that can be potentially integrated into the US system.
''North Korea's test of a nuclear warhead and missile may not bring much of a [direct] threat to China,'' said Cai Jian, a North Korea expert at Shanghai's Fudan University. ''But the response from Japan or South Korea, or America's strategic advances into the region, are more disadvantageous to China. ''These are the reasons China opposes North Korea's tests.''
The sanctions against last month's nuclear test by North Korea were jointly drafted by China and the US and endorsed by the UN Security Council on Thursday night. They will make it more difficult for Pyongyang to shift money and technology in aid of its nuclear program.
''These sanctions will bite and bite hard,'' said Susan Rice, the US ambassador to the UN.
The UN resolution follows Pyongyang's successful ballistic missile test in December as well as a colourful stream of bellicose invective, even by its standards. Prior to the agreement Pyongyang threatened to turn South Korea into ''a sea of flames''.
Several analysts said the effectiveness of the sanctions would depend on China adopting a far greater level of enforcement than it has previously.
Regional missile defence systems are evolving in response to North Korea's weapons program and also to increasing concerns about China's military intentions. ''It allows Japan to say 'we're building a missile defence systems against North Korea but we can also use it to defend ourselves against China,' '' said Scott Harold, a security expert with the Rand Corporation in Hong Kong.
Dr Harold said the US has been strongly encouraging South Korea and Japan to engage in defence co-operation. ''Beijing is worried that this is a prelude to a trilateral alliance or a Pacific version of NATO,'' he said.
Those defence systems may, in turn, prompt China to build more missiles.
''The overall direction in which missile defence is going means the US, Japan, probably South Korea and Australia, get used to and work on the basis of integrating their systems,'' said Stephan Fruehling, an expert on missile defence systems at the Australian National University's Strategic and Defence Studies Centre.
''This has political implications and symbolism, and that is what is causing China grief,'' he said.
Sam Roggeveen, editor of the Lowy Institute's The Interpreter website, said there was a risk of a regional ballistic missile and ballistic missile defence race.
''The easiest way to defeat ballistic missile defences is to overwhelm them with numbers,'' he said.
Chinese analysts say Beijing's backing of the new round of UN sanctions reflects frustration with North Korea but not a shift in its underlying strategic calculus.
''People are fed up with North Korea but I'm not sure this signifies a new age,'' said Jia Qingguo, professor of international relations at Peking University. ''China's policies are in a transitional period, China is in a transitional period, and I think this period might be quite long.''