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Yasushi Tomiyama

【#453(Special)】Relying on China over N. Korea Reaching a Limit

Yasushi Tomiyama / 2017.07.13 (Thu)

July 10, 2017

     The U.S. and Chinese presidents met in Hamburg, Germany, on July 8. While U.S. President Donald Trump emphasized the need to respond to North Korea’s growing threat of nuclear and missile development indicated by the recent test firing of an intercontinental ballistic missile, Chinese President Xi Jinping renewed his call for “dialogue and consultation” to resolve the problem. They thus remained apart from each other. According to Japanese newspaper reports, President Xi made clear at his meeting with Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe on the same day that China opposed individual sanctions by countries against North Korea. While the Trump administration still hopes that China will increase pressure on North Korea, the dependence on China may be reaching a limit.

Tillerson calls for patience
     Before the U.S.-China summit, U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson expressed his dissatisfaction with China’s actions that he described as “a bit uneven.” “China has taken significant action [to put pressure on North Korea], and then they paused and didn't take additional action,” he said. However, “we have not given up hope.” Tillerson noted that the Trump administration is attempting a “peaceful pressure campaign” to increase pressure on North Korea to resolve the nuclear problem peacefully. “It takes a little time to let these things happen,” he said. “So it is going to require some level of patience.”
     The remarks indicate that the Trump administration still hopes to squeeze North Korea gradually through China’s enhanced pressure and have North Korea abandon its nuclear development program by non-military means.
     On the Chinese and Russian proposal that the United States and South Korea suspend their joint military drills in exchange for North Korea’s freeze on nuclear and missile development, Tillerson noted that the United States is seeking to cease and roll back the nuclear program. He thus refused to freeze or keep the nuclear program at the present stage.

A regime change in sight
     While having vowed to fully implement the United Nations’ sanctions on North Korea, China apparently has no intent to impose individual sanctions. On the other hand, the United States wants China to take a wide range of actions, including imposing an oil embargo on the North and ceasing to accept North Korean migrant workers helping Pyongyang to earn foreign currencies as well as toughening crackdown on Chinese companies cooperating in North Korea’s nuclear and missile development. The U.S.-China gap is wide.
     After U.S.-China ministerial Diplomatic Security Dialogue on June 21 failed to produce satisfactory results, the Trump administration took a series of actions indicating a turn in U.S.-China relations. It announced the first set of sanctions on Chinese companies and individuals dealing with North Korea and its first arms sales to Taiwan worth $1.4 billion and conducted the Navy’s second freedom of navigation operation in the South China Sea under President Trump.
     Everybody should know that North Korea stands little chance of abandoning nuclear and missile development through “dialogue and consultation”. Japan and the United States now may have to implement policies with a North Korean “regime change” in mind for their national security. Such policies do not necessarily mean military actions. They can begin with substantial sanctions on Chinese firms including large financial institutions dealing with North Korea, which the Trump administration should impose at risk of deterioration in U.S.-China relations after giving up hope on cooperation with Mr. Xi.

Yasushi Tomiyama is Senior Fellow and Planning Committee Member at the Japan Institute for National Fundamentals.