The whole world is watching.
Watching a warmongering nuclear North Korea. Watching its new young leader, Kim Jong Un, who seems bent on convincing the world he’s not just recklessly immature and irrational but missile-ready and maybe megalomaniacal enough to trigger a war that could kill hundreds of thousands.
And that is why, most importantly, the world is also watching China.
The world is watching and desperately hoping that China, a still-developing economic superpower that is North Korea’s prime patron, will finally use every one of its economic and military levers to prevent its next-door neighbor from plunging the region into catastrophe.
China has been thrust into its first major test of world leadership. It is a test this wannabe world leader clearly doesn’t wanna be taking — at least not right now. After all, China’s Xi Jinping, who became president just a month ago, is intent on fostering what he has called a “sustainable” long-term economic expansion. “China’s model of development is not sustainable, so it is imperative for us to speed up the transformation of the growth model,” Xi said recently.
That’s why the timing of North Korea’s push toward war is most inconvenient from China’s viewpoint. Recently, Xi was preparing for a major address. He planned to reassure a forum of concerned multinational business leaders by telling them they could always trust China to protect their companies’ global interests.
Then, from half a world away, President Barack Obama telephoned and Xi’s priorities expanded. Obama was calling to convince Xi to do everything he could to prevent Kim from triggering all-out war. After all, Beijing wields a good bit of influence in Pyongyang: China does $5 billion worth of business with North Korea; it is doubtful a communist North Korea could exist without China’s support.