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China's balancing act: WW3 or impunity?

China has continued to supply North Korea with oil and materials for missiles amidst calls to further strengthen sanctions against the totalitarian state.

China faces increased pressure after fragments of missiles fired by North Korea recovered from the ocean revealed the materials hailed from China. The US has also called on China to stop oil exports to the country.

In February 2017, China announced it would ban the importing of coal from North Korea for the rest of the year. In September it also announced that it would limit the oil it exported but has stopped short of completely halting oil exports to North Korea. China's reluctance to ban oil completely, has caused some to call for secondary sanctions to be placed on China by the US.

China's defiance of the call is due to the Sino-North Korean Mutual Aid and Cooperation Friendship Treaty, signed in 1961. The treaty promotes peaceful cooperation ranging from the cultural to the technology spheres. According to analysts, China is trying to maintain neutrality in its relationship with North Korea to avoid being implicated if tensions become even more heated.

While China does not want to get involved, it is worried that if a war breaks out, it will have a refugee crisis on its hands as most civilians would flee to China.

North Korea fired its most powerful ballistic missile, the Hwasong-15, which appears to be an Intercontinental Ballistic Missile (ICBM) on Tuesday. It has spread fear across the North Pacific Ocean that a nuclear bomb could soon be delivered to the mainland of the US. In preparation, Hawaii, the closest American state to North Korea, has already started nuclear siren drills – the first time since the Cold War.

What led up to the launch of Hwasong-15

The missile launch comes a day after the US and South Korea held its annual war games. In the tense environment, North Korea said it is a provocation and could have serious nuclear implications.

The ICBM also comes a week after US President Donald Trump re-listed North Korea as a State Sponsor of Terrorism. The country previously spent 20 years on the list, but former president George W Bush removed it in 2008 in an attempt to negotiate the end of its nuclear weapons programme. Trump again put North Korea on the list which allows countries to place new sanctions and penalties on the country. Experts say that being on the list is not about terrorism, but rather diplomatic language. Other countries currently on the list are Iran, Sudan and Syria.

US plans for peaceful tactics

While this may have been interpreted as a show of force and may be a provocation for North Korean leader Kim Jong-un, the US has also revealed it has a less violent means of unarming the country.

A project which started in 2009, has developed “Counter-electronics High Power Microwave Advanced Missile Project”, also known as Super Champ, has the ability to fry the nuclear facilities’ sensitive electronics, rendering them useless. Champ sends out microwave pulses and apparently has an almost perfect success rate. Two Air Force officials, who are close to the project, said that Super Champ could be ready to use as a weapon within a couple of days.

During an emergency UN Security Council meeting, the US ambassador to the UN, Nikki Haley, said: "We have never sought war with North Korea, and still today we do not seek it. If war does come, it will be because of continued acts of aggression like we witnessed yesterday [Tuesday]."

Harsh conditions of North Korean soldiers

In November a North Korean soldier fled across the border to South Korea. He was chased by former colleagues, who crossed the border in an attempt to shoot down the soldier. He was shot five times but managed to survive after South Korean soldiers pulled him to safety. Doctors' analysis of the soldier revealed that the soldier was malnourished and had parasites in his intestines. The condition of the soldier is in sharp contrast to Kim Jong-un's state-of-the-art missile factories and bombs.

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