Why China Must Confront North Korea

“Why China Must Confront North Korea”, published at The National Interest on March 21, 2017

If the United States pursues a more militaristic agenda towards North Korea under Trump, then China has largely itself to blame. After years of China turning a blind eye to sanctions violators and keeping the dangerous North Korean regime alive and its leaders well fed, now a new American administration is saying enough with the current policy of “strategic patience.”

Whether Secretary of State Rex Tillerson’s comments during his visit to Seoul and first trip to Asia really reflects a change in strategy remains to be seen. “Let me be very clear: the policy of strategic patience has ended,” he said, leaving military options on the table. Trump has been notoriously hard to pin down on almost everything, especially foreign policy. During the campaign he often said that South Korea wasn’t paying the United States enough for its defense, but now it appears he has dropped any attempts to renegotiate those defense parameters, at least in light of North Korea’s increasing provocations.

But if the Trump administration does up the ante, it will be because proposals to engage in toothless talks with North Korea—like that made this week by Chinese foreign minister Wang Yi—have utterly failed, and China hasn’t done its part to try to reign in its rogue frenemy. China’s call for the United States and North Korea to “apply the brakes” is too little, too late. Juxtaposed against its vitriolic response to the South Korean deployment of Terminal High Area Altitude Defense, China’s impassive response to multiple North Korean nuclear tests, always predicated on the same “firm opposition” talking point, which makes it look like China hasn’t been taking the threat of a nuclear North seriously.

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