The growing tensions on the other side of the planet are spreading rapidly. What has been characterized as a potential third world war may end up being just that. And countries are choosing sides. China has now announced it will intercede if the Americans take any preemptive action against North Korea.

That isn’t good news for President Trump, as he threatens surgical strikes on the North Korean regime. Yet China also indicated that they’d stay neutral if the North attacked first.

The Daily Mail is reporting on an editorial in the Global Times that says “China should also make clear that if North Korea launches missiles that threaten US soil first and the US retaliates, China will stay neutral.”

That isn’t the most ringing endorsement of China’s respect for the United States, but it is better than having China side with the Koreans outright.

“If the US and South Korea carry out strikes and try to overthrow the North Korean regime and change the political pattern of the Korean Peninsula, China will prevent them from doing so.”

Pyongyang has not let up in its threats against the United States. They continue to discuss plans for attacking American bases in Guam. As these threats are not outside of North Korea’s technical capabilities, the U.S. is matching their threats with dire warnings of their own.

The President says any aggression will be met with “fire and fury.” And those abstractions were backed by more subdued, but equally ominous warnings about the outcome of a war.

White House aide, Sebastian Gorka, has captured the mood in the White House, comparing the current situation to the Cuban Missile Crisis.

China, though, remains an open question. The country has been an ally and trading partner of North Korea.Yet China is clearly dependent on its trade relations with the United States, too. So far, Chinese efforts at diplomacy have not swayed either side.

Geng Shuang, Foreign ministry spokesman, has called on both sides to avoid “going down the old path of alternately showing strength and continuously escalating the situation.”

“The current situation on the Korean Peninsula is highly complicated and sensitive. We call on the relevant parties to be cautious with their words and actions, and contribute more toward easing tensions and enhancing mutual trust,” Geng wrote in a statement.

China’s biggest fear is border protection. The United States already has a strong foot hold in South Korea. If there were to be a war, and the Americans were to win new territory in the north, that could destabilize the region.

The Global Times wrote China will “firmly resist any side which wants to change the status quo of the areas where China’s interests are concerned.”

“The Korean Peninsula is where the strategic interests of all sides converge, and no side should try to be the absolute dominator of the region.”