China has started building refugee camps on the North Korean border, in what the New York Times interprets as a sign of real fears of a war between the rogue state and the U.S..
The revelation, which originally came via the microblogging site Weibo, came the same day as Secretary of State Rex Tillerson offered talks with North Korea to de-escalate the crisis, even though President Donald Trump has dismissed the idea as futile.
China’s action appears to be an unusual, if implicit, admission of increasing instability in its ally. It acknowledges the risk of refugees swarming across the Tumen River, which forms the border between it and North Korea.
Lu Kang, China’s Foreign Ministry spokesman, told NYT reporters on Monday that he was unaware of the plan for the refugee camps, but he didn’t deny their existence, stating “I haven’t seen such reports.”
The report identified five sites spread across three villages in Changbai County and two cities in the north-eastern border province of Jilin, which have been earmarked as camp locations.
Worries around North Korea have heightened since Pyongyang claimed it had successfully tested an intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) that put the entire United States mainland within range of its nuclear weapons. China has vowed to stand by its ally if the U.S. starts a conflict.
Washington has long held the position that it wouldn’t tolerate a nuclear-armed North Korea. Tillerson had said after that test that the U.S. was “ready to talk any time they’re ready to talk,” but there would first have to be a “period of quiet” without nuclear and missile tests. His latest offer drops that precondition.
On Tuesday, Tillerson said “Let’s just meet,” in a speech to Washington’s Atlantic Council think-tank.
The speech prompted a response from the White House that left unclear whether Trump – who had tweeted that Tillerson was “wasting his time trying to negotiate with Little Rocket Man” (using a mocking nickname for North Korea’s Kim Jong Un) – had approved the shift in policy.
“The president’s views on North Korea have not changed,” the White House said. “North Korea is acting in an unsafe way…North Korea’s actions are not good for anyone and certainly not good for North Korea.”
Ahead of Tillerson‘s speech, North Korean leader Kim Jong Un vowed to develop more nuclear weapons, according to North Korean state media on Wednesday.
Kim said Tuesday his country would keep making “more latest weapons and equipment” to “bolster up the nuclear force in quality and quantity”, the country’s official news agency KCNA reported.