The US president, Donald Trump, accuses China of not doing enough to tackle the issue of North Korea and stated that the US is ready and able to tackle the North Korea threat, with or without the help of China and Trump's national security aides have already compiled a list of options, both economic and military, that trump will have at his disposal against North Korea.
Trump suggested that China is the one country that must do more or has the political clout to tackle the issue of North Korea's nuclear and missile programs. Although China might have a measure of influence on North Korea, Trump is mistaken to assume that China is able to dictate Pyongyang' s foreign policy and political decisions.
China's willingness to pressure Pyongyang is limited and cannot alone persuade North Korea to give up its nuclear program because North Korea could turn its hostility toward China if Beijing pushes too much. But also, China's hesitation is a foreign policy tactic to keep North Korea as a buffer zone that separates China and the US' sphere on influence, meaning China must not endanger Pyongyang domestic stability through sanctions.
The contradictions of Chinese policy are shown by its provision of launch trucks for North Korean mobile missiles, in violation of international sanctions, followed by Beijing’s acceptance of a U.N. Security Council resolution tightening sanctions on Pyongyang and indications that China would cut assistance if North Korea undertook further nuclear tests.
Unlike other aggressively insecure states, there is little indication that the North Korean regime can be placated by US threats or Beijing's pressure. Pyongyang's paranoia is not simply a reflection of its strategic predicament, but an ingrained element of its identity. However, failing to respond to provocation seems to encourage the North Koreans to push even harder and more violently, using their sordid talent for using threats to extort concessions and aid to compensate for the state’s economic failure.
What, then should the US do?
Given this, the United States needs a careful plan for how to respond. Certainly efforts to offer Beijing a ''grand bargain'' like withdrawing some US forces from the region in exchange for pacifying Pyongyang, could be the starting point since Beijing has been irritated over the US decision to use a pretext for assembling the advanced THAAD missile defense system in South Korea.
China has repeatedly warned the US not to exacerbate the tensions on its borders by beefing up its military capabilities in the vicinity of the South and East China seas. At the same time, Beijing continues to be suspicious of Washington's policy toward Taiwan, which China considers an inherent part of the mainland.
Most importantly, the United States should issue an explicit policy statement on North Korean provocation to diminish the chances of miscalculation by Kim Jong Un. The statement should indicate that the United States will shoot down any North Korean rocket or missile aimed at or crossing over the United States or an allied state.
Washington should state that a nuclear demonstration will result in a sustained U.S. campaign against North Korea military targets. And, importantly, the United States should clearly state that any major attack by North Korea against American targets or allies will result in the removal of the Kim regime and the building of a democracy in North Korea.
Regime replacement would be immensely expensive in both blood and money, especially at a time when the American military and defense budget is being highly politicized. But North Korea is the only nation on earth where internal conflicts or regime psychosis, rather than any external actions, might prompt the regime to unleash a nuclear or conventional Armageddon. For this reason, it is vital that Kim and his cronies clearly understand the costs of future violations of UNSC resolutions.
By Guylain Gustave Moke
International Affairs Expert