Joe Biden has told his Chinese counterpart Xi Jinping that Beijing carried the obligation to tell North Korea to not engage in long range nuclear testing, failing which Washington will step up its military presence in the Korean region to defend itself and its allies South Korea and Japan.
It is difficult to say with certainty that China can exert pressure on its longtime ally North Korea to abstain from the nuclear testing of weapons which it has not done after 2017, Mr Biden said, as the two world leaders met in Bali on Monday.
“I’m confident China’s not looking for North Korea to engage in further escalatory means,” the US the president said.
Mr Biden and Mr Xi met for more than three hours ahead of the G20 summit in Bali, in a significant bilateral move for the US and China aimed at showing their strength and partnership.
The US president also flagged concerns about the Kim Jong-un regime’s “provocative behavior” and said that all members of the “international community have an interest in encouraging the DPRK to act responsibly”.
Mr Biden also underlined America’s ironclad commitment to defending its Indo-Pacific allies, said a statement from the White House.
Later in a press conference, Mr Biden said that the US would do what it needs to do to defend itself and allies South Korea and Japan if North Korea goes back to testing its nuclear weapons. This comes at a time when tensions are rising in the Korean region with continuous launches at a historic speed by Pyongyang — including the test launch of an intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM).
The US president said his country will have to take “certain actions that would be more defensive on our behalf” if North Korea continues to escalate its test launches.
The said response “may be more up in the face of China” though not directed against it, he said.
“It would not be directed against China, but it would be to send a clear message to North Korea,” Mr Biden said, adding that the US is “going to defend our allies as well as American soil and American capacity”.
Officials in Washington have sounded the alarm on North Korea’s willingness to carry out a nuclear bomb test at any time now for months this year, while not removing the sanctions on the hermit kingdom.
Alongside, North Korea has ratcheted up tensions in east Asia by carrying out a record number of missile tests in the history of projectile launches, with more than 30 fired in just this month and more than 60 fired this year, signaling that the country is not fearing action from the US.
China and Russia have been squarely blamed this year by the US for enabling North Korea to carry out the launches and not enforcing the UN security council sanctions. Experts have pointed out that North Korea is using the ongoing war by Russia in Ukraine as a distraction to amp up its nuclear arsenal.
Senior envoys monitoring the tension in the Asian region have said that China carries leverage and can exert it with the rising geopolitical tensions.
“The prospect of an enhanced US military posture as part of strong trilateral security cooperation with Japan and South Korea may motivate Beijing to rein in Pyongyang more effectively than endless entreaties by US diplomats have done,” Daniel Russel, a top US diplomat for east Asia under former president Barack Obama said.
China, on the other hand, is likely to ask North Korea to step back if it sees a strong rebuke from Washington that could affect Beijing’s interest as demonstrated in history.
“President Biden is signaling plans to reinforce US force posture on the (Korean) Peninsula and in the region if North Korea conducts a nuclear test – a response presumably Beijing won’t like,” said Christopher Johnstone, an East Asia expert at Washington’s Center for Strategic and International Studies.