On Friday The Washington Examiner posted an article about the negotiations with North Korea over denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula. The article reminds us of the major role China has played and will play in the continuing talks.
The article reports:
…And at a press conference in Beijing with his Chinese counterpart, Mike Pompeo said, “We have made very clear that the sanctions and the economic relief that North Korea will receive will only happen after the full denuclearization, the complete denuclearization, of North Korea.”
Which is why Pompeo’s meetings in Beijing are decisive. Not only would North Korea’s nuclear program cease to exist without Chinese support. North Korea would disappear too. Some 90 percent of North Korea’s foreign trade is with China. And it was most likely China’s reluctant imposition of tough U.N. sanctions last spring that grabbed Kim’s attention. Now, with Singapore behind us, China is ready to ease the pressure. That cannot happen if denuclearization is to succeed.
Pompeo understands that in the midst of good feeling there is a tendency to look away from bad behavior, to excuse or rationalize autocratic probing for weakness and irresolution. Democracies often sacrifice both their principles and their interests in order to perpetuate abstract, meaningless, consequence-free diplomatic processes. If the Trump administration is to produce a different outcome than the Clinton, Bush, or Obama administrations, it must relax its posture only when North Korea provides tangible reasons to do so.
So you go to Beijing. Why? Because North Korea is but a part of a much larger puzzle: China’s rise to great power status.
Some might argue for going easy on Kim in order to free up resources to deal with China’s military, cultural, political, and economic challenge to American power. This gets it backward. Want to see results in North Korea? Resist Chinese hegemony. By opening up the space for strategic decision-making and pressuring China at several points at once, you make it more likely Xi Jinping will exert influence over his vassal. Just so we back off.
Indeed, China is worried that North Korea may cut its own deal with the United States and, like Vietnam and Laos, become a one-party state that nevertheless balances against the Middle Kingdom.
President Trump is the first American President to introduce a stick into the negotiations with North Korea and China (as well as a carrot). Because he is seen as an usual President, the tactic seems to be working. Hopefully it will continue to work.
The article concludes:
Let’s increase Xi’s blood pressure a little. There are plenty of options. For starters, kill the defense sequester. In addition to conducting freedom of navigation operations, penalize China for militarizing islands in the South China Sea. Levy tariffs. Sell the F-35 to Taiwan. Warn the region that, if negotiations with Kim fail, America may be forced to reintroduce the tactical nuclear missiles that were removed from the Korean peninsula in 1991.
Will China protest, and U.S. doves cry? Of course they will. But remember they did exactly the same thing last year—until maximum pressure forced China to act. And North Korea sang a different tune.