The Telegraph, 19 April 2017
The situation on the Korean Peninsula has now escalated to a level of crisis last seen during the Korean War. As I have written here, President Trump has decided to approach North Korea as a Chinese problem, demanding the Chinese provide the solution.
In this judgement, he is partly correct in that Beijing has long been the sponsor, ally, and diplomatic friend to the world’s last Stalinist regime. Unlike the United States which stopped a South Korean nuclear programme in 1975, Beijing has shirked its duty regarding its odd ally.
Then, in the Six Party Talks – during the noughties – China behaved like an impartial chairman, assuming that Pyongyang’s growing nuclear strike capability was America’s problem. Finally, under the Obama administration, when Washington was frustrated and exhausted by the North’s bait-and-switch diplomacy and provocations, Beijing fell back on well-worn phrases to “resume talks” and “avoid conflict”.
Subsequently, it has either watered down sanctions in the United Nations, or watered them down at the border, where a large black market economy keeps the isolated regime awash in products, including military hardware.
Trump’s threat of a unilateral strike then is for Beijing as much as it is for Pyongyang. His goal? To make China realise that not stopping North’ Korea’s nuclear programme will have negative consequences for Beijing too.
Interestingly, his gambit also reveals that the only non-military options left on the table are in China’s hands now. As the largest provider of aid and trade with the North, it holds the stongest cards. So, what will the Chinese do? There are really three scenarios…
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