No South China Sea operations as U.S. focuses on North Korea – China politics and current affairs news from May 3, 2017

Politics

A summary of today’s top news in Chinese politics and current affairs. Part of the daily SupChina news roundup "Détente with Duterte."

Combination of satellite photos shows Chinese-controlled North Island, part of the Paracel Islands group in the South China Sea, on February 15, 2017 (top) and on March 6, 2017. Planet Labs/Handout via REUTERS

In our 100-day review of President Trump’s posture toward China, we noted that though his advisers — and the president himself before his inauguration — had previously pressed for challenging China in the South and East China Seas, Trump “suddenly became muted once assuming office.” Now the New York Times reports (paywall) that the Trump administration has rejected three Navy requests to conduct freedom of navigation operations in the area. The Times notes that Trump has apparently “adopted a more conciliatory air with Beijing as [he] seeks help to rein in Pyongyang,” while “the Pentagon leadership [also] wanted to look carefully at the strategic implications of such excursions on overall national security policy,” especially with regards to North Korea.

On May 2, U.S. and Chinese diplomats gathered in New York to discuss the North Korean problem, Reuters reports. Options on the table include the usual statement of condemnation, a stronger resolution that may also blacklist some individuals and entities, or a more ambitious program of sanctions. Sources told Reuters that it is unclear what level of action China’s government may be willing to take, and a Foreign Ministry spokesman dismissed talk of sanctions as a purely “hypothetical” question on May 3.

Chinese state media, however, went ahead and made some unusual criticism of North Korea earlier this week, as the nationalist tabloid Global Times asked, “Is [the] China-North Korea friendship treaty outdated?,” and the Party-run People’s Daily called for “responsible actions” on the part of all parties, but especially North Korea, to “ensure peace” on the Korean Peninsula. Reuters notes that these two editorials brought unusual criticism from North Korean state media, which accused them of “chopping down the pillar” of the two countries’ relations.