EDITORIAL: China must rein in North Korea to avoid confrontation
North Korea recently launched a missile that appears to be capable of hitting targets in the U.S. mainland, including Chicago. Pyongyang says that Washington should regard the launch as a “grave warning.”
No argument there.
This sobering development comes years earlier than many experts had predicted. The upshot: The U.S. policy of “strategic patience” — waiting for North Korean dictator Kim Jong Un to come to his senses and the bargaining table — is officially over.
President Donald Trump needs a far more muscular policy than his predecessor’s, pronto. What will that be?
So far, there’s been talk of shooting down North Korean test missiles as a warning. But that could provoke Pyongyang to rain massive conventional retaliation on Seoul. Bad sequence.
There’s been smarter talk of amping up the U.S. cyber campaign to send the North Korean missile program into a tailspin, much as the U.S. did against Iran’s nascent nuclear program. But we hope that effort is already happening.
And the U.S. also is moving to impose economic sanctions against Chinese banks and businesses for trading with North Korea. Let’s hope there is much more of that to come.
What hasn’t worked yet: haranguing China, Pyongyang’s major trading partner and ally, to do more to rein in the outlaw Kim regime. As President Trump rightly tweeted about China, “they do NOTHING for us with North Korea, just talk.”
Cut to America’s recent display of military prowess: Two supersonic B-1 bombers streaked over the Korean peninsula as part of a joint exercise with Japan and South Korea. U.S. forces also demonstrated the effectiveness of the Terminal High Altitude Area Defense system (THAAD), which detected, tracked and intercepted a medium-range ballistic missile launched from Alaska.
All this posturing is directed not only at Kim Jong Un, but also the leaders of China and their “What, us worry?” attitude.
The last thing China wants is U.S. supersonic bombers roaring close to its borders.
The last thing China wants is a potent demonstration of how the U.S. can knock down missiles before they reach the American mainland.
The last thing China wants is Japan and South Korea seriously mulling whether they should go nuclear to defend themselves. Both countries are believed to be capable of jump-starting a nuclear program on short notice. At the moment, however, both countries rely on U.S. nuclear deterrence for their security.
The big question: Can North Korea be deterred, just as the Soviet Union and China were?
In other words, do the North Koreans believe that the U.S. will retaliate, possibly with nukes, if North Korea attacks Japan or Seoul? The greater the doubt, the greater the risk that North Korea will make a first strike.
All of this is unsettling and happening in China’s neighborhood. And as any businessman will tell you, rising tensions and threats of war aren’t good for business.
China has a choice. It can help defuse the situation by choking off its energy trade with North Korea. It can make Kim Jong Un and his elites go without their favorite cognac and fancy cars. China can yank hard on the North’s economic lifeline and help inform average North Korean citizens that they could live far better lives without the Kim regime and its brand of leader-take-all communism. Just look south.
Beijing, the choice is yours. Every North Korean missile launch brings confrontation closer.