I like this article because it combines a critique of the Trump administration’s North Korea policy with an implicit analysis of how a strategy might be done.
We live in strange times. In the US’ White House, the politics of misinformation have metastasised. Analysts who wish to discuss traditional US security and diplomatic interests in northeast Asia must therefore contend with an array of demented statements by the president, thick performances of outrage by his closest aides against what they call “the fake news industrial complex”, the weird convergence of US foreign policy with Trump family interests, the crimson visions of Steven K. Bannon, and of course the tendency of US-Russia relations to overshadow all else amid an expanding investigation of the Trump campaign.
For all of that, in the first six months of its existence, the Trump administration has invested considerable time in the North Korea issue and demonstrated thereby an ability to function with a due level of focus. In an April 4 speech at Johns Hopkins University, scholar Jonathan Pollack noted Trump’s assiduousness with North Korea intelligence briefings, and there has been the general sense that this president has, if nothing else, succeeded briefly in appearing to change the terms of debate.
Trump took an activist approach to discussions with Xi Jinping over the North Korea issue, spontaneously sharing his tweet-sized thoughts on Chinese-North Korean relations. Both James Mattis’ remarks at the Shangri-La Dialogue and Rex Tillerson’s extended remarks at the US State Department on May 3 indicated that North Korea and China’s role in influencing the DPRK has been a preeminent area of foreign policy focus.
Then there is Trump’s Twitter account and an uncoordinated set of comments from others.
If Washington’s message to North Korea has been incoherent, Xi Jinping’s government in Beijing has been hearing a more consistent word from the Trump administration: more. As one particularly carefully crafted question put it at the July 11 foreign ministry briefing in Beijing, the US wants more responsibility, more action and more pressure from China on North Korea. Geng Shuang’s answer was to lambaste Washington’s “China responsibility theory” for North Korea, likening the US and DPRK role in the nuclear crisis to a tai-chi duet of “pushing hands”.
Trump’s tweets from last night, and many other comments of his, indicate that he thinks he can bully China into solving the problem. This shows that he doesn’t understand the situation in East Asia or China’s interests. It also smacks of an executive who is accustomed to pushing anything that requires thought or sustained action off onto others.
North Korea’s recent missile tests have been successful. The missiles tested could reach most of the United States. The North Korean statement on the latest test seem to indicate that in addition to testing the missile system, it sent back telemetry that will be helpful in developing its warhead. That seems to suggest there will be another nuclear test soon.
All these systems are still in development, not yet production and full deployment. Their purpose seems to be mainly for deterrence against the United States. We have time to engage China in discussions as to a way to limit North Korea’s nuclear force and to engage North Korea in talks. China can’t solve this alone, nor can we expect North Korea to give up its nuclear weapons program. We will have to give them something to limit it.