China says it will not permit war in the Korean Peninsula. Why now?

Chinese President Xi Jinping said Thursday that his country will “absolutely not permit war or chaos” to break out on the Korean peninsula.

Addressing a group of Asian foreign ministers, the comments were made in the context of a wider exploration of China’s foreign policy. President Xi also expressed commitment to “comprehensively and fully” implement sanctions targeting North Korea’s missile and nuclear programs, as mandated by the United Nations.

The remarks come amid a growing wave of activity by North Korea that many regard as provocative. Xi’s comment also represents a departure from previous Chinese statements that appeared less bellicose – but observers question whether they really signal a substantial change in policy.

“The big question here is: To whom was this directed?” Michael Auslin, an expert on US-Japan relations at the American Enterprise Institute, says in a phone interview with The Christian Science Monitor.

There are four likely candidates, as Dr. Auslin sees it: North Korea, South Korea, the United States, and Japan.

For South Korea, the message might be not to corner its northern neighbor with excessive pressure or threats. For Japan, it could be more along the lines of a warning to keep away, to let China deal with its precocious ally in Pyongyang as well as other security concerns in the region,

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