When President Trump says that if China doesn't help solve the North Korea problem, "we will solve the problem without them," or hints at rewarding Beijing if it makes Pyongyang behave, people understandably focus on what (if anything) that says about U.S. intentions.
Meanwhile, Vice President Pence's comments at the Demilitarized Zone Monday — emphasizing the American "resolve" demonstrated in Syria and Afghanistan, and saying that China needs to apply more pressure on Pyongyang — suggest that there's no real disagreement on goals, just on who will take the hard steps to get there.
But we should also ask what it would mean to "solve" North Korea from China's perspective and how likely it is that Chinese President Xi Jinping's government could do so.
Beijing has no affection for Kim Jong Un; the apparent murder of the North Korean leader's half-brother, Kim Jong Nam — who spent years in Macao and had good relations with Chinese officials — made a tense relationship worse.
China would prefer a denuclearized Korean Peninsula, especially if South Korea then gave up on deploying the U.S.-designed THAAD missile defense system. By contrast, an enlarged North Korean nuclear arsenal, likely to lead to further militarization in South Korea and Japan, conflicts with Chinese goals; war on the peninsula would be disastrous.
So Beijing is tightening some screws: refusing coal shipments (which earn North Korea scarce foreign exchange); talking about cutting off oil shipments, which would probably be devastating for Pyongyang; and arresting some people involved in smuggling.
But overall, China-North Korea trade — which accounts for 85 percent of Pyongyang's total trade — is up significantly from last year, despite Kim's provocations, and components recovered from some Korean missile tests suggest Chinese origins. Not surprisingly, some Americans see this as proving that Beijing must be pressed harder, so it will press harder.
It's not that simple — for some little reasons, and a big one.
keyboard shortcuts: V vote up article J next comment K previous comment