Thu Apr 13, 2017 9:20AM
A man watches the news showing footage of North Korean leader Kim Jong-un, at a railway station in Seoul, South Korea, February 12, 2017. (Photo by AFP)
A man watches the news showing footage of North Korean leader Kim Jong-un, at a railway station in Seoul, South Korea, February 12, 2017. (Photo by AFP)

A state-run Chinese daily says Beijing would protect the North Korean government and people if Pyongyang gave up its nuclear program.

“As soon as the [sic] North Korea complies with China’s declared advice and suspends nuclear activities... China will actively work to protect the security of a denuclearized North Korean nation and regime,” read an editorial published in the Chinese-language daily Global Times on Thursday.

“This is Pyongyang’s best option,” it said.

The Global Times is published by the People’s Daily, which is the Chinese Communist Party’s official paper.

North Korea maintains that its nuclear program guarantees its security, including by deterring a potential invasion by the United States or South Korea, or both. Washington and Seoul have been holding annual military drills on the Korean Peninsula. Pyongyang calls those drills rehearsals for invasion and has been rapidly developing missile and nuclear military programs in return.

Tensions have reached potentially dangerous levels recently. The US has dispatched a strike group, including a large aircraft carrier, to the Korean Peninsula. North Korea has said it is ready for war.

The rising tensions and the prospect of a potential confrontation on China’s doorstep may have been the reason why Beijing has now stepped forward to offer protection for North Korea and demand a dismantling of Pyongyang’s nuclear program in return. China has also had its reservations about the advancing nuclear program itself, a potential game changer in the region.

The offer to protect North Korea, while capable of defusing the recent tensions, could theoretically put China in a position to fight off any and all future aggressors on North Korea’s behalf. It was not clear how far China would go in doing that.

It was also not immediately known what guarantees China would be willing to offer to protect North Korea if Pyongyang did agree to end its military nuclear program. No details were available on what would happen to North Korea’s missile program, either.

As of Thursday morning, there was no reaction to the offer from North Korea, the US, and South Korea. 

On Wednesday, the Chinese Foreign Ministry said Beijing would like to see the tensions with North Korea eased through the “dual suspension” of the country’s nuclear program and the joint military drills between the United States and South Korea.

North Korea’s military forces launch four ballistic missiles during a military drill at an undisclosed location in North Korea, March 7, 2017. (Photo by AFP)

North Korea has so far conducted five confirmed nuclear tests and numerous missile test-launches. While it has not fired missiles against other countries, it has vowed strong action if it is invaded.

The United Nations (UN) and the European Union (EU) have already imposed an array of crippling sanctions on the country over its missile and nuclear programs.

China, North Korea’s main ally, has already taken steps to increase pressure on the North.