Japan Institute for National Fundamentals

Speaking out

Hiroshi Yuasa

【#436】Don’t Leave China or Russia to Back up North Korea

Hiroshi Yuasa / 2017.05.08 (Mon)

May 1, 2017

     North Korea has long used the so-called brinkmanship policy as its special measure for playing a diplomatic game with the United States, threatening to resort to war. In the current Korean Peninsula crisis, however, the United States’ Trump administration, rather than Pyongyang, is seemingly using the brinkmanship policy. President Donald Trump may be paying for the previous Obama administration’s “strategic patience” leaving North Korea to develop nuclear weapons. “Failing to act now may bring catastrophic consequences,”U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson told a ministerial meeting of the United Nations Security Council, warning that the world as well as the United States is on the brink of facing such catastrophe.

U.S. aiming at oil embargo
     The Trump administration values the role of China and then that of Russia in enhancing sanctions on North Korea. Emphasizing that China accounts for 90% of North Korea’s external trade, Tillerson asserted that Beijing alone has unique influences on Pyongyang. The Trump administration has increased pressure on China to toughen sanctions on North Korea in a bid to block China from limiting an oil embargo on North Korea to a level avoiding “humanitarian disaster.” Given that Chinese oil is used for military aircraft and vehicles in North Korea, a full-fledged oil embargo is a must. The oil embargo could also help check Russia from replacing China as oil supplier to North Korea.
     What the United States terms “all options” for sanctions on North Korea include financial sanctions before a military option. In 2005, Washington imposed sanctions on Macau-based Banco Delta Asia for laundering money for Pyongyang. If the Trump administration invokes similar “secondary sanctions” on Chinese financial institutions dealing with North Korea, the Chinese financial industry may plunge into a chaos. Indicating concern about such consequence, Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi at the ministerial meeting called on all relevant countries to stay calm, control themselves and avoid provocative remarks or actions.

Authoritarian states glossing over facts
     As was the same case with the Chinese foreign minister, Russian President Vladimir Putin posed as apostle of peace by calling for calm and constructive talks when Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe visited Russia recently. Russia is suspected of replacing China as oil supplier to North Korea and is about to accept a regular service between North Korea and Russia by the North Korean passenger-cargo ship Man Gyong Bong, which has been banned from calling at Japanese ports. It is regrettable that Prime Minister Abe has refrained from clarifying whether he conveyed his concern about these matters to President Putin.
     When the then Obama administration was to launch attacks on Syria in 2013, President Putin presented a mediation plan to the U.S. and Syria, asserting that he was trying to protect international law rather than Syrian President Bashar al-Assad. The remark sounding good amounts to glossing over facts, given that Russia had already conducted a military incursion into Georgia in defiance of international law and that Russia later took the Crimea Peninsula from Ukraine.
     We must also remember that China embarked on artificial island construction in the South China Sea, concluding a U.S. decision to refrain from attacking Syria as indicating the weakness of the Obama administration. Chinese President Xi Jinping is calling on the United States and North Korea to refrain from using force in a bid to reduce a burden that the Trump administration is about to impose on China.
     Authoritarian states flex muscle when the United States is off guard, while glossing over facts when U.S. pressure on them is increased. When analyzing the intentions of China and Russia, we should judge them not by their remarks but by their actions. The Trump administration’s brinkmanship diplomacy indispensably needs support from U.S. allies.

Hiroshi Yuasa is a Planning Committee Member at the Japan Institute for National Fundamentals and a columnist for the Sankei Shimbun.