by George Koo, Silver Bear Cafe: North Korea’s latest test of a missile with a range capable of threatening American cities has left the Trump Administration somewhere between wishful thinking and a hard place. Too bad neither represents a realistic resolution of the conundrum.
The easy way out, for the US at least, is to “let China do it.” President Donald Trump, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, Defense Secretary James Mattis and UN Ambassador Nikki Haley have in unison chanted the same basic mantra: The problem would be solved if China would apply more pressure on North Korea.
First there is no evidence China can tell North Korea what to do with any real hope of success. The two countries are not buddies and there is no love lost between China’s President Xi Jinping and North Korean leader Kim Jong-un. They have not met since both leaders came to power in 2012 and they communicate via messengers.
China has supported a UN resolution strongly condemning North Korea. The Kim regime no more pays heed to China than it has to protests from South Korea, Japan or the United States.
Just as China cannot stop North Korea from developing nuclear weapon and intercontinental missile technology, North Korea is not developing these technologies for China’s sake. North Korea believes it needs nuclear strike capability in order to be taken seriously by the US.
To date, sanctions on North Korea have not worked. The American response has been to ask the UN Security Council to impose more sanctions. In particular, Trump does not feel China is tightening the screws hard enough.
Shutting down North Korea’s economy might bring Kim to heel from the American perspective but clearly such a move is unacceptable from China’s view. Economic collapse would trigger a massive humanitarian crisis and China would be left to deal with the refugees as they take the only viable option and migrate north into China.
There is a flip side to this approach. Even if the sanctions bring North Korea to its knees, it does not mean the Kim regime will become more conciliatory. Kim may decide he has nothing to lose and simply launch an attack on the south.